In a recent ”Money Matters” interview with BBC, the C.E.O. of the FCA, Andrew Bailey expressed concerns about growing debt among young people aged between 18 and 34 years in the UK. His concerns came as the number of insolvent individuals in the 18 to 34 age bracket increased by 31% between years 2015 and 2016, according to the Insolvency Service.
The latest Insolvency Service statistics show that seaside towns in Wales and England have the worst debt levels among the youth in the UK. The towns that are worst hit include; Scarborough, Torbay, and the Isle of Wight.
The FCA is currently focusing on sustainable, affordable credit, i.e., reducing high-cost payday loans and long-term credit card debt. In his interview, Bailey warned that there is an increasing number of young UK citizens taking out credit cards and payday loans among other short-term credit loans to cater for basic living expenses.
Although Bailey goes ahead to state that the current debt levels haven’t reached a critical level from a macroeconomic standpoint, there are serious concerns about why debt levels are increasing among young people. Bailey attributes this new disturbing trend to a generational shift in patterns of wealth and income. He doesn’t view this trend as reckless borrowing per se, but an indication of the current basic living standards.
Bailey feels basic living costs have increased drastically over the decades forcing the young generation to borrow more to meet essential living costs. He points out specifics like the high cost of rental houses as well as poor/lack of income growth as the main causes of the debt problem. Today’s youth also have lower asset ownership levels which is a different generational experience from decades ago.
Bailey also attributes the current debt levels among the youth to an increase in ”unsecured lending” ranging from credit cards and overdrafts to car loan and personal loans. According to the latest Bank of England statistics, consumer debt now stands at over £200 billion and increasing drastically at 10% every year. Savings are also decreasing due to low interest rates and higher cost of living.
According to Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Leader, the current debt problem among young people in the UK is attributed to the conservatives’ failure to implement their manifesto pledge on creating better laws for people facing financial difficulties. Cable claims the pledge to offer legal protection ranging from interest to charges and bailiffs for 6 weeks to individuals in distress because of debt will go a long way to solve the debt problem in the UK.
Jonathan Reynolds who is the Treasury’s shadow economic secretary finds a lot of human tragedy in the UK debt story. According to him, the youth don’t have a choice. Labour suggests there should be a cap on charges on other forms of short-term debt in line with the payday loan cap. According to Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, there is a need for special focus on credit card debt which has spiralled out of control. McDonnell has plans to help over 3 million people in the UK who are currently paying more than they should in interest payments.
Joanna Elson, the C.E.O. of Money Advice Trust agrees with Andrew Bailey’s sentiments. Elson states that although the current debt levels among the youth may not be severe to the economy, the trend has a critical effect on an individual level. Elson stresses the importance of debt advice but recognises the fact that very few young people are seeking financial advice when they find themselves in financial problems.
The FCA is currently looking at some practices as well as forms of high-cost debt which are the main contributors to the UK debt problem. Although a lot has been done to regulate payday loans among other short-term loans in the recent past, the FCA boss would love to see increased focus on sustainable, affordable credit provision. The FCA has also turned its attention to the rent-to-own industry which charges high interest for ”white goods” like washing machines.
The FCA clampdown on payday loan lenders which started in 2015 brought sanity to a troubled industry. Payday loan charges are now capped. Borrowers don’t need to worry about affordability as long as they choose a reputable payday lender. Furthermore, there has been reduced over-dependence on payday loans according to Treasury select committee member, Kit Malthouse.
The next step is making the payday loan rules an industry standard. The FCA boss has stressed the importance of sustainable credit in society and offered assurances on maintaining a close eye on high-cost lending going forward.