Welby and Wonga

Millions of primary school children are to be invited to invest their pocket money in savings schemes overseen by the Church of England as part the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby’s battle against payday lenders such as Wonga.

Children as young as four attending Church-run primary schools are to be recruited to new savings clubs. Archbishop Welby said the scheme could potentially transform the life chances of “millions” of children by instilling in them habits of saving and financial awareness from an early age. The Daily Telegraph, Nov 13, 2014



Remember all that?

The Archbishop of Canterbury (after a private meeting with the CEO of the payday loan company Wonga, about which he subsequently went public) threatened to ‘compete Wonga out of existence’. The Church of England, it was said, would use its ‘16000 branches in 9000 communities’ to establish credit unions which would initiate a new financial era for the poor and underprivileged.

A quick scan of the internet brings up numbers of glossy websites launching the project. They are all glowing with aspiration. But why has the press – which trumpeted the intention (the Catholic Herald saw it as a latter-day manifestation of Chesterton’s  ‘distributism’) – not followed up with reports of its achievements?

Perhaps because there have been none.

The project rapidly became an embarrassment when it emerged that the Church Commissioners themselves were investors in Wonga.

The latest statistics are the reverse of impressive. According to the Bank of England there were 524 operating unions in the UK in December 2015, with 1591171 users and/or depositors. Of those 345 belong to the Association of British Credit Unions Ltd. There is no way of discovering how many relate to CMCU (the Churches’ Mutual Credit Union). But viewing comparable statistics from before the Welby initiative it cannot be many.

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