Gambling shops, loan sharks, desperation, and debt

By - Wednesday 8th May, 2013

Aishah Mehmood wants Croydon citizens to believe the glass is half full, rather than half empty

Photo by Thomas Hawk. Image used under Creative Commons license.

Photo by Thomas Hawk. Image used under Creative Commons license.

Since the 2011 riots we have become much more focused on the image and improvements to be made in Croydon. One of the pressing issues is the growing number of loan and betting shops in the Croydon area. As a concerned citizen of Croydon, I am worried about the image this is reflecting on the town and the implications these stores’ presence has for Croydonians.

It was early December of last year, while I was travelling on the tram, that I discovered the ‘Speedy Cash’ loans store. My pensive stare at the store attracted the attention of the woman sitting opposite of me. I said to her “how many more stores like this do we need? Surely this is going to do nothing but get people into debt?” She  agreed with me, informing me that she was still paying back the money she borrowed over Christmas in 2011, and that her family were unaware of how to pay for Christmas this year. She is one of many who are in the similar situation during these tough economic times: she is in debt.

I was aghast to read the small print conveying the high interest rates

What became frustrating to me (and, I’m sure, to many other Croydon residents too) was how ‘Speedy Cash’ found a way to advertise its store to people at home. I found it a nuisance. A sealed envelope with no address was sent to homes in the Croydon area.  The envelope contained leaflets of advertisements, the manager’s card and not to mention a ‘free’ ‘Speedy Cash’ loans pen and fridge magnet. These envelopes were sent out on more than one occasion and I was aghast to read the small print conveying the high interest rates. A reporter for the Advertiser, Rachel Millard, discovered that the high interest rates from Croydon’s loan stores can result in interest rates of up to £2.01 per day. I am deeply concerned about those individuals who might not be aware of the implications of the high interest rates. What will happen to those who do not have the money to pay back their loans so quickly? People might get speedy loans, but it will be difficult to avoid speedy debt.

With the recent controversial ‘slur’ of Croydon being announced as one of the second worst places to live in the UK, many of us have diverging opinions in regards to living in Croydon. I’ve lived in Croydon all my life and I am aware of the hard working citizens who wish to make Croydon a better place, however we cannot ignore the fact that there are some issues in Croydon that could potentially support this controversy. One growing concern is the lack of diversity of shops in the Broad Green area. A study carried out by the Advertiser noted that one third of the 179 current stores sell a range of booze or fast food, or happen to be a loans firm or betting office. Therefore it seems difficult to sweep the issue of loan and betting stores under the rug.

Steve Reed MP rightly says “betting shops leech off desperate people”

In early March of this year, citizens of Croydon were told that a previous Chicken Cottage shop on London Road was planned to become a Paddy Power. This was despite 48 written objections to the plan. This alerted many residents towards the new image of Croydon, a town that is unfortunately becoming crowded with loan and betting stores, which behave like vultures preying on the vulnerable and desperate within our society. As MP for Croydon North, Steve Reed, rightly said: “betting shops leech off desperate people”. The issue becomes far more problematic when we take into account the shocking statistics of more than 18,000 children across all wards within Croydon living in poverty-stricken households (an income of less than £15,900 a year). In which, 29% of children in poverty live in the Broad Green area. I am deeply concerned for the many families who might be persuaded by these stores and the implications this could potentially have for children in Croydon.

After the riots, one thing Croydon does not need is an image of a town that harbours pessimism, with ‘speedy’ solutions to financial problems resulting in families being burdened with the strain and stress of paying back loans or being in debt. I do not want my town to be renowned for this. I want Croydon citizens to believe the glass is half full, rather than half empty. There is hardly much one can do about the current loan and betting stores in Croydon, however there are changes planned to be made. With the mayor’s £23 million regeneration fund, councillor Vidhi Mohan noted in this publication that ‘close to £10 million is being invested the London Road area, to regenerate the physical infrastructure, as well as reinvigorate local businesses and communities’. Councillor Mohan believes that ‘the future for the dynamic and vibrant communities in London Road is certainly bright.’  I hope something positive flourishes.

Croydon direly needs its streets and shops to advocate a positive message for its community. We need a family-friendly image for all its citizens. The riots may have tarnished the image of Croydon for some, but let’s not give up. Let our faith not be shaken. Let us hope for something better. At times like this, I am reminded of the heartwarming message sent from Graham Reeves (of Reeves Furniture store), to the Croydon Peace Tree for Peace Day in 2012: “Through difficult times, the community has come together and shown great spirit. We look forward to working hard to restore Croydon to the place we all want it to be.”

If any of our readers find themselves trapped in debt, please remember there is a range of advice and support available from StepChange, Citizens Advice,  and the National Debtline

Aishah Mehmood

Aishah Mehmood

Aishah is a lifelong resident of Croydon. With a background in inter-faith relations and Abrahamic Religions, she blogs, writes and tweets for peace, highlighting issues in South London through the Croydon Peace Project. Originally started in the summer of 2012, in the wake of the Croydon Riots, the project aimed to inform local citizens of World Peace Day. The project invited the local community to have their messages of hope, love and peace on trees hung on trees in the local area. Initially the idea received large amounts of support from the Croydon Labour Party, who helped on a non-party political basis. Currently the project is active on Facebook and Twitter supporting the call for peace and informing the local community.

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  • Philip George Harfleet

    The UK is just one of the ‘civilised’ countries that exist by floating on an ocean of debt. This has been the case for the last 30 or more years, growing worse with each new year. Many are drowning as a result, either by bankruptcy or losing their home. Some just give up and die.

    Gambling in its many guises is now a lifeline that some cling to, which usually just makes the situation worse. We have the lottery and a multitude of ‘scratch-cards’ that are part of this National gaming machine. Then betting shops in every town, again with casino-like gaming inside them. Bingo halls and a massive ‘on-line’ bingo system. On-line versions of betting shops, complete with all forms of casino gaming, such as poker, blackjack, roulette and dice to name but a few.

    I left the RAF in 1956 after serving for three years. I then started work for a bookie in South Norwood, (Arthur H. Horton), in a ‘credit office’. Betting shops did not exist then. If you wanted a bet you had to have a credit account with a bookmaker and place your wager on the telephone, or by giving your bet to a ‘runner’ – that is an ‘agent’ who took your bit of paper and passed it on to the bookie. The ‘runners’ would get paid by the bookie about 15% of the total amount they collected.

    All this was a convoluted system for the ‘man in the street’ to have a bet, unless s/he went to the races to have a ‘legal’ bet. It also involved a deal of corruption in that the police would be paid by the bookie to ‘turn a blind eye’ if the runner was caught taking these scraps of paper with bets scrawled on them. It was not unknown for the police to actually let the bookie know when one of the runners was to be arrested!

    Then, in the early 1960s, betting shops arrived. I worked in these too, but how very different was the law then! No loitering in these shops. Have a bet and go. No tea or other refreshments allowed. No gaming machines allowed. No shop could be open after 6.30 p.m. Very strictly controlled.

    Now look at them! Stay as long as you like, have something to eat and drink, have a go at roulette, blackjack etc whilst waiting for the next race. Open from dawn to dusk, seven days a week.

    It has become absolutely ridiculous compared to when such places first came about.

    I left this ‘industry’ in 1969-ish as I felt ashamed to see a hard-working chap come into the shop, open his wage packet and start throwing money across the counter, often losing the lot! What would his wife or partner have to look forward to when he got home? I shudder to think.

    Gamblers and gambling will never diminish, much as I’d like it to. It’s probably the world’s 2nd-oldest profession! And don’t get me started on these usurious money lending shops!

  • PolarDog

    Usury – the charging of excessive interest – is an offence in several USA states which dictate maximum interest rates. No such law has existed in the UK (if my brief research is correct) since 1854. Surely it is time to get this back on to the statue books?

    • George Harfleet

      Agree entirely.

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