THE BLOG

Debt - The Silent Assassin

14/10/2014 10:52 | Updated 13 December 2014

A lot has been written about consumer (or 'individual' debt)... Cause and effect, attitudes towards debt and how it's all changed over the years.

I make the distinction here between 'consumer' and 'business' debt. Yes, they're different, but some of the effects of catastrophic corporate failure can have a similar impact on the personal lives of those caught up in a business collapse.

The driving forces behind personal and corporate debt also differ, although cynics would claim they both have one thing in common. Basically, they would say, this comes down to one's reach exceeding one's grasp.

This isn't strictly accurate, of course. Debt isn't always about greed, or naïveté - or even crass stupidity. It can be about misfortune, ill health, bad luck, bad timing - call them 'hard luck stories' if you will.

History is splattered with the broken dreams of debtors. Debt shatters lives. In the old days, harsh punishments were meted out, in part to humiliate, but also to deter others who may have had the temerity to dice with the dangers of LSD (pound, shillings and pence, that is).

Debt Punishes

Anyone who's been in serious debt will know that the anxieties and animosities it generates are punishment enough in themselves. In today's world, loan sharks take no prisoners; payday loan companies (until the Financial Conduct Authority stepped in recently) added insult to injury by compounding the interest on small debts to unmanageable levels; whilst credit card companies and their ilk have an awesome array of legal options to make a 'pinned-out rat' of anyone who transgresseth.

In the old days, people like Oscar Wilde were thrown into debtors' prison. Others, for a variety of reasons, ended up in the workhouse, grim Victorian institutions that gave fulsome meaning to having to 'sing for your supper'.

Members of today's 'Benefit Street' underclass don't know they're born. State beneficence - misguided or not - ensures that the original 'safety net' of the 'cradle-to-grave' Welfare State and the post-war Bevan era saves everyone, whether they're deserving or not.

This isn't necessarily linked to debt, but it's hard to see how anyone living on benefits - not to mention the UK's 'working poor' earning the present minimum wage - can avoid falling into debt.

To live a basic lifestyle in 2014, to eat decent food, to heat a home and then find the wherewithal to enjoy little indulgences such as smoking and drinking at the end of a hard day doing nothing.... All this takes cash.

Whether this is raised in the black economy, by thieving, or simply robbing Peter to pay Paul is irrelevant. The spectre of real debt is ever-present.

Debt Is Everywhere

Debt isn't the sole preserve of the underclass, the unemployed or the under-paid. A typical payday loan punter, for example, is a 28 year-old male in full-time employment.

Ranks of other 'vulnerables' can be found in families where there are too many mouths to feed - not to mention the disabled, the elderly or those who face sudden redundancy.

Technology is also removing many people from the workforce in a silent-but-deadly way. The quiet revolution has tossed many people to the wolves of badly-paid service sector jobs.

Even once-safe middle class jobs have been 'standardised' by so-called 'software solutions' to ensure that many respectable middle-ranking jobs of yore now no longer exist.

All this and more fuels the fire of indebtedness - sudden or chronic. Small matter that UK plc is a trillion pounds in debt. That's all long-term, secured and stitched into the social fabric of future generations.

No. Personal debt to the tune of a few thousand pounds per head wreaks havoc on the inner-peace of ordinary folk, those without the voice to scream for help, without the financial back-up to resist omni-present credit merchants.

Debt is all around us - an invisible, silent force that wrecks lives and family fortunes for generations to come.