Wonga: Widening the Divide

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The corporate loan shark ‘Wonga’ has received a lot of media coverage in the UK recently. The website boasts easy short term loans with an APR of 5853%. The most disconcerting element of this relatively recent development isn’t that it exists – or that it is allowed to exist – but that society has reached such a point of utter desperation that it has come into existence. Surely in a ‘Developed First World’ country legalised extortion is not a necessary evil. To quote the almost comically ludicrous interest rates borrowing £1 for a week expects a return of £6.96[1]. We could argue that people have the freedom to choose and they need to take responsibility for their own actions. Therefore they have to suffer the consequences of them. Further, the question remains: are people really this desperate?

The Independent – branding this the ‘Summer of Hunger’ – claims that people now are that desperate[2]. The article asserts that food banks are unable to cope with the numbers of starving people. This is something that exists in a so-called ‘developed’ country. This is a country that produces 7.2 million tonnes of food and drink waste per year from homes alone[3]. These statistics imply that some people are that desperate, but there is absolutely no need for this desperation to exist. So then the question becomes: why don’t we care?

I would argue that the demonization of or apathy towards poverty is a central reasoning behind the prevalence for poverty. The demonization of the poor has been something that has existed for as long as disparities between rich and poor have. They are the feared ‘other’; the people that threaten the establishment because they might look for a fair share. It is at worst that people look upon them with these eyes. But at best they are met with apathy and indifference. When such attitudes are prevalent it breeds the environment for ‘Wonga’ to exist.

People have always been eager to exploit others for their own personal gain. The key difference being though, that extortionist practices have largely existed outside the mainstream and legal channels, that is, in recent times. Are we witnessing a revival in such practices? If we are then surely a Dickensian dystopia is not too far from the horizon. These changes happen gradually and are often masked in progress.

However, can people really just stand aside and watch a corporate loan shark shake people by the ankles for payment? Has society plummeted that far from the traditional community centred morality which allowed Homo sapiens to survive and evolve? Can we meet starvation on our doorsteps with indifference? I hope that for humanities sake some regulation comes soon.

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