The exception that proves the rule.

by Pseud O'Nym

Once in while, I learn of something that re-affirms my faith in human nature. Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t happen very often, which makes it all the more joyous when it does.

Earlier in the week I saw a headline in ‘The Guardian’ informing me that the supermarket chain Iceland was going to introduce loans to help their customers to buy food and so help alleviate some of the pressures posed by the cost of living crisis. Being a tad cynical, I immediately imagined this to be yet another example of capitalism at work, but didn’t realise I was both right and wrong.

Wonderfully wrong, as it turned out.

In an an interview on Radio 4 on Wednesday, the CEO of Iceland explained that this idea had been three years in the planning, had been piloted in some of the most deprived parts of the UK for eighteen months and was designed and run in conjunction with a not for profit, government supportedcharity. Yes, he admitted, that when they ran the pilot interest was charged, but Iceland had subsequently decided to absorb that cost themselves. Yes, the loans would have to be repaid, but if customers struggled with repayments, the debt wouldn’t be sold on, but instead the customer would be helped and not harassed he said. With the truism ‘if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is’ running around my brain, I did a quick Google search and found this on the ITV news website:

“Customers can only take out one loan at a time, during six windows throughout the year that coincide with school holidays. 

This is to help parents keep cupboards stocked at a time when children on free school meals are at risk of hunger during the holidays.

By limiting loans to these periods, the supermarket hopes the scheme will allow customers to use them to smooth out incomes, rather than rely on them year-round.”

It just got better and better. I must confess to feeling a sense of optimism, that this might be a portent of a new way of doing things, that business would finally realise that it is a part of society, and not think of society as a revenue generator. This idealism lasted for all of less than a day when I learned of the tariff deficit scheme.

Ostensibly a way of keeping energy bills at current levels and avoiding the eye-watering price increases which are coming, it turns was soon revealed to be a scheme dreamed up by schemers. Energy companies and banks, whose motives were pure. Pure greed, that is. One website clarified exactly what it actually did

“ScottishPower and Eon discussed plans with ministers for a tariff deficit fund, supported by banks, that would be underwritten by a government guarantee.  

Such a fund could freeze the cap on annual energy tariffs at £1,971, which analysts forecast could otherwise rise to £4,000 next year, for two years. 

The cost would be paid back over a decade to 15 years through surcharges on bills or taxes under the latest proposals. “

So, instead of a windfall tax or any other socially responsible undertaking, banks and energy companies, in collusion with the government, have maintained their own self-serving greed, and trying to con us into thinking they’re the ones doing us the favour into the bargain. I know, shocking right?

That would be the banks who the taxpayer bailed out after the global financial crisis. That would be the energy companies that post obscenely large profits. That would be welcoming plans for yet another government bailout when faced with the Covid crisis in the form of the furlough scheme, a furlough scheme moreover that has saddled the taxpayer with huge debt, but when faced with a crisis that threatens their bottom line, they have concocted a fix whereby the everyone except for the taxpayer benefits. Fix it certainly is.

Talk about having your cake and eating it.