Letters: Archbishop right to take on the payday lenders

These letters appear in the Saturday 27 July edition of the Independent

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The Archbishop of Canterbury is right to take on payday lenders (report, 25 July). It’s terrifying to think that each month, one million families turn to high-cost, short-term credit and 400,000 use it for essentials such as putting food on the table and preventing the gas and electricity from being cut off.

Crisis loans were the last line of defence for families in financial crisis and offered an alternative to expensive loans. But as part of the Government’s drive towards greater localism, they have been abolished and responsibility for delivering the replacement schemes passed to councils. But research by the Children’s Society shows that almost two-thirds of local authorities are no longer providing interest-free loans, and funding for the replacement schemes has been cut in half. This could drive some of the most vulnerable into the arms of legal loan sharks.

Surely it’s common sense for a decent society to ensure that the little money low-income families have goes to supporting their children, rather than paying off extortionate interest rates. That’s why we are calling on the Government to support local authorities to help vulnerable families get access to interest-free – or very low-cost – credit in a crisis. This will reduce the risk of them being forced to turn to high- cost money lenders and becoming trapped in a vicious spiral of debt and despair.

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive, The Children’s Society, London WC1


The Archbishop of Canterbury should be praised for his plans for an alternative to payday lending. On our toxic high streets, debt and vulnerability can often walk hand in hand. Being in debt can make a person vulnerable to developing a mental-health problem. Indeed, if you have debt problems, you are twice as likely to develop major depression as someone without. Equally, having a mental-health problem can make a person vulnerable to taking on debts.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is providing training to the financial sector to help their staff treat customers at risk of mental-health problems more fairly. The Financial Conduct Authority is also planning to take steps to address this, and we strongly urge them to take into account the needs of customers at risk of poor mental health. All financial-service companies, including payday lenders such as Wonga, need to prioritise the needs of vulnerable people.

Professor Sue Bailey, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, London SW1


I am delighted with the Archbishop’s campaign on credit unions. How sad, then, to hear that the Church lives in the real world and has to make concessions to it with slightly flexible ethics in its investment policy. It could almost have been George Osborne speaking.

We create the real world,  the world we live in, by everything we think and say and do. I believe that this will be a wake-up call for the Church, and that it will now scrutinise very carefully its investment policies.

Eileen Noakes, Totnes, Devon


North-South divide shown up by Olympics

In answer to James Ashton (18 July), I would have preferred the 2012 Olympics to have taken place in Paris or Berlin rather than London. It wasn’t worth spending over £9bn for a little over two weeks of top-class sport, especially at a time when the Government was making spending cuts elsewhere.

But that isn’t the only reason. Your columnist argues that “The Games marketed London to the world in a way that no series of trade missions could have managed”. To me that is the main reason for my Olympic scepticism. For this country is already too biased towards the capital, and the sporting jamboree only served to  exaggerate this fact. What we need is investment in less affluent parts of Britain, and a realisation that the world doesn’t end at the Watford Gap.

I’m afraid, however, that the Olympics only served to boost London, and confirm people’s prejudices about the North-South divide.

Tim Mickleburgh, Grimsby


Phil Sherwood, head of Olympic Volunteers, claims 40,000 Sport Makers as evidence of the enduring legacy of the Olympic Games (17 July). The figure is from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport launch in 2010. Last May, the Minister for Sport, Hugh Robertson, told Parliament there were then 50,704 Sport Makers. He did not add that the number recording 10-plus hours was 23,323.

That total, too, may be misleading. For example, in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent a total of 688 completed 10 hours of “making sport happen”. A request for examples produced only one –  a successful jogging group.

The paucity of information is not surprising. Sport Makers are asked to log their hours spent. Some do, some don’t; they are volunteers so there is no coercion. As a result no one knows how many of them are still active. Mr Sherwood argues that the volunteering legacy needs time and commitment to build. One wonders if he is aware that the flawed Sport Makers project ends in September.

Gerald Sinstadt, Tittensor, Staffordshire


Steel’s the antidote to baby madness

The Independent should be applauded for publishing the piece by Mark Steel (26 July) regarding the recent birth by a member of the Royal Family. For four days we have had to suffer the intellectually bankrupt scrum of some journalists generating a flow of mindless drivel surrounding the perfectly normal bodily function of giving birth.

Steel’s article (though tongue in cheek) beautifully highlights the absurdity of much of the British media, in particular in its treatment of royal affairs.

While Nicholas Witchell may appear to be the crown prince of royal sycophants, he is not alone. There are many who continue to force-feed the public with inconsequential class-ridden profanity. Thank heavens for contributors like Steel who attempt to promote a balanced and humorous antidote to the mind-numbing sludge presently on offer.

Mike Bellion, Sedbergh, Cumbria


OK! magazine has rightly been lambasted for its disgraceful front cover of the “Duchess of Cambridge diet regime” published the very day the duchess left hospital with her new son (report, 25 July). This is, however, just a high-profile example of the sort of images and issues which niggle away at girls’ and women’s self-esteem every time they look at the images of celebrity women on the newsstands.

As head of a girls’ school, I am all too aware of the effect on young women of insidious headlines and pictures which, day in, day out, suggest that women have improved themselves with the latest diet/exercise regime, or, conversely, let themselves down by putting on a few pounds. Image is all important is the message we all receive loud and clear. 

I therefore applaud those who took to Twitter to take a stand. These women and men give me hope that we can halt this crazy, relentless drive for perfection which is doing so much harm to young minds.

Jo Heywood, Ascot, Berkshire


Taking risks with alien invaders

Daniel Emlyn-Jones (letter, 26 July) says he has obtained 500 live African field crickets and released them into his garden in order to enjoy their chirping in the evenings, and exhorts other readers to do the same. This action is highly irresponsible, and encouraging others to do the same even more so.

Daniel says they are “unlikely to naturalise” due to our cold winters. “Unlikely” is not good enough. Our winters have been very variable of late, and some species that don’t normally overwinter here have been doing so. Even if they don’t last the winter, if this thoughtless activity became popular it could result in severe disruption of our ecosystems, putting a range of our native insect species at risk.

Perhaps, though, we should thank Mr Emlyn-Jones for drawing attention to the easy accessibility of live alien insects in large numbers – even if he doesn’t know, or care, about the possible consequences of releasing them into the wild.

Francis Kirkham, Crediton, Devon


Technology’s effect on childhood

Jane Merrick (25 July) recounts the evident danger of parents more involved in tweeting and Facebooking than in looking after their children. On page 39 we read of the suicide of a Swiss telecoms boss whose life became totally dependent on his smartphone. In both cases, interaction with real people and the real world is replaced with an attention-sapping and trivial “connectedness”.

To some of us it is self-evident that the child of a parent wearing earphones or constantly using a smartphone will be missing out on social-development opportunities and perhaps even basic care.

Brian Mitchell, Cambridge


Where’s the  women’s sport?

Once again you have failed to report on women’s sport. In the paper of 25 July there was not even a mention of the score of the previous night’s semi-final of the Women’s Euro 2013. 

The Independent is constantly commenting on sexual equality, especially in business. Why don’t you practise what you preach as regards to women’s sport?

Rosemary Gill, Yateley, Hampshire


Proms heat

The Royal Albert Hall has indeed been very hot this week, but at least the Proms audience has the ability to dress suitably in shorts or the equivalent. The main victims were the men of the Berlin Staatskapelle who were playing in full evening dress. Surely no one would have minded if they had worn, say, black trousers and black open-necked shirts. They would then have been more comfortable and perhaps would have played even better (though the latter is hard to imagine).

Gordon Elliot, Burford, Oxfordshire


Pedant patrol

I cannot be the only grammar pedant to suspect that the 25 July front-page headline about Stephen Hawking – a “brief history of myself” – is a thoroughly unwarranted reflexive. It should have been a “brief history of me”.

James Hutchinson, London W6


Vanity case

Can anyone think of a new product the world needs less than the vanity product announced yesterday, the forthcoming Bentley SUV?

Bernard Payne, Chester