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Home > Culture and Society

The Dicks vs. The Sharks


9 December 2003

Pat Hewitt is putting the squeeze on loan sharks. She has announced new legislation, giving private detectives greater powers to target illegal loan operators:

"It is more often than not the most vulnerable who are preyed on by loan sharks. It is simply not possible to escape from poverty if what little you have is asset-stripped by predators. These measures will crack down hard on loan sharks and other rogue lenders."

Hewitt seems to be grubbying around in the foothills of the problem here. Getting Magnum PI to whizz round and solve Britain's debt problem is an exciting idea, but a bit facile, surely? What she should be doing is attacking the debt problem from the top down.

It’s the Carol Smillie end of the spectrum that needs reforming - the slick advertising, the celebrity promotions - this is what's messing with people's lives - not some grubby loan shark in Coventry driving around with gloves and a hammer in the boot of his Jag. He might sock a few people in the face and repossess their DVD players, but he's just a symptom. It's the advertising which spreads the disease.

This, from money.msn.co.uk:

Loans company Direct Car Finance used TV comic Jim “nick-nick” Davidson to attract motorists with mortgage or credit card arrears or CCJs on their credit histories. Unfortunately, he couldn’t stop the company going into receivership. The Funding Corporation bought the company out of receivership in May this year and relaunched it as Approved Car Finance.

Marketing director David Titmuss says Davidson isn’t being used at present, but threatens a comeback. “Celebrities boost product credibility and awareness in a competitive marketplace,” says Titmuss. “I don’t see anything wrong with that, although the company has a duty to make sure it offers a good product.”

Advertising is not a neutral thing that you can take or leave. And "vulnerable" people (all of us, really) should be protected against things which are just plain bad for them. (Although note the amazing comments made by Tim Mobsby of Kellogg's, when asked whether advertisements for products high in salt, sugar and fat which target children should be banned - he said it would prevent advertising being used "as a force for good").

Cigarette advertising has long been curtailed. The promotion of fast food is under attack, and pressure has been put on supermarkets to shift sweets away from tills). Surely loan advertisements are every bit as dangerous?

More on Britain's debt problem here.

More on the great Jim Davidson here.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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