Once upon a time, money lenders were shunned by ‘polite society’, lurking on the fringes.
But thanks to the proliferation of pay-day loan companies in recent years, borrowing money with interest rates that run into the thousands of per cent has become an increasingly normalised process.
From regular TV adverts to celebrity endorsements and the sponsorship of football teams, including the Premier League, they have become an inescapable facet of modern life, even if you never use them.
However, as they have become more commonplace, so too have they become, if not necessarily accepted, then certainly tolerated, as part of mainstream society.
When the legal money lending businesses can get away with charging these exorbitant amounts, is it any surprise that some at the end of their financial tether see no difference in going to an unlicensed loan shark?
With nearly one-in-five people who go to Advice Portsmouth having trouble with pay-day loans or loan sharks, it is clear that this is a problem that is not going to go away any time soon.
The Chancellor, George Osborne, may tell us there are ‘green shoots of recovery’ in the economy, but try telling that to people desperate enough to consider these options. If people didn’t see the pay-day loan companies as viable, they wouldn’t be competing for our signature in prime-time.
Any action to try and clampdown on the loan sharks, such as the city’s hiring of Birmingham City Council’s Illegal Money Lending Team, is to be commended, but it is not a quick process – it requires time and resources.
But this is very much a bottom-up process, gathering information, building a case, and then acting on it.
If action was taken from the top, by the government, to restrict the behaviour of the money lending industry, it would send a clear message that taking advantage of the vulnerable is not acceptable.
Obviously this would not stamp out the loan sharks, but it would go some way to pushing the trade back in to the fringes – where it belongs.