This is the first in a series of Blogs that Peter Sagar will write for true faith over the coming season. Peter, as well as being a loyal Newcastle United supporter over many years is also an activist within the Coalition of Resistance (Tyne & Wear). Some people like their football coverage completely absent of political discourse but frankly, they are living in a dream-world if they believe politics and football and sport don’t mix. See the current protests in Brazil about the horrendous extravagance of the World Cup at a time of cuts to public services and the different models of football club ownership between Germany and England. But for those of you who really don’t like this sort of thing, just blank it and move onto the next item without getting your knickers in a twist. Or you could give it a try as it’s unlikely to ruin your life.
Newcastle United: Sponsored By the’Best of a Bad Bunch’?
In the furor about the return of Joe Kinnear to Newcastle United, another row seems to have been forgotten; that of centre-forward Papiss Cisse and possibly also Hatem Ben Arfa seemingly refusing to wear Newcastle United shirts with the sponsor Wonga.com’s name on them. Leaving aside their objections on religious grounds, what ethical basis is there for their concern?
Well, certainly I am sure I can’t be the only one who finds Wonga.com’s television adverts deeply objectionable. They come across to me as extremely patronising to older people. I am not in this group just yet, just as you may well not be either, but we all have elderly relatives and it is surely the case that in life we are presented with two alternatives; an early death or becoming elderly ourselves. Now, of course many adverts are frivolous and patronising to one group of people or another and these things can be taken too seriously. However, I can’t help but wonder just what the tone of the Wonga adverts tells us about the attitude of the company towards other people, including its customers.
On 11th June this year, 44th anniversary of Newcastle United last winning a major trophy, – you may not have wanted to be reminded of that – The Independent reported that, “Wonga’s deal drew heavy criticism because of an interest rate that, when stretched over the course of a full year, would work out at 4,212 per cent.” Of course the idea is that Wonga deal in so-called ‘payday loans’, so that it is to be expected that the money will be repaid quickly and easily. I am sure that in many cases that does happen, but what if the person borrowing the money can’t do that, or if, like all of us at some stage or other, they haven’t read the fine print properly, because they were too busy or otherwise distracted? What then? An annual interest rate of 4 212% makes Wonga sound like loan sharks, like modern-day equivalents of Jimmy Boyle,exploiting the desperate poverty of Glasgow council estates in the 1960s, even if Wonga don’t send round the heavies, armed with meat cleavers, to deal with bad debtors.
The situation with Cisse has of course been muddied, by his own demand for higher wages. The Wonga deal is substantially bigger than the previous sponsorship contract with Virgin Money and not unnaturally, officials at Newcastle United were said to be delighted with the size of the deal. It has also been pointed out that, “part of the increased finance will go on squad development and may also be significant as Cissé seeks an improved deal.” That said there do seem to be reasonable ethical grounds for Cisse and Ben Arfa not wearing the sponsor’s logo on their shirts.
The website thisismoney.co.uk has noted that to be fair,Wonga is not amongst the worst of the pay-day loan companies, but they are seen as perhaps the best of a bad bunch. However, the website still argues that Wonga, “charge astronomical rates of interest for the privilege – several thousand per cent in most cases. Even though there are no industry-wide figures, it is believed many customers fail to repay their loan on the settlement date and so end up mired in hopeless debt.” Many of those in this awful situation will be in our own North East England region and ironically may well be Newcastle United supporters.
According to ITV news on 20th February this year, 20% of children are living in poverty. This will be even higher in the North East, if statistics from the Government Office for National Statistics are anything to go by, which suggest that income in our region is only 78% of the national average. (www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/ regional-accounts/regional- gross-value-added–income- approach-/december-2012/stb- regional-gva-2011.html#tab- Regional–NUTS1–GVA-estimates ) This again raises the question of just how appropriate it is for a club such as Newcastle United to be sponsored by a payday loan company at all.
And things are only going to get worse. As I write this, George Osborne is putting the final touches to another round of cuts as part of his clearly failing austerity policy. He has already stated that no cuts will be made to the armed forces, so it is to be presumed that other vital public services will be cut. These cuts will only deepen the poverty in our region and make some of our fellow Geordies even more dependent on companies such as Wonga.
Meanwhile it has also been reported that the position for many still in work is continuing to deteriorate. The Institute of Fiscal Studies has reported that British workers have had to endure a 6% pay cut in the last five years. If you are on £40 000 a year, then a 6% pay cut, will should leave you with a reasonably comfortable income, depending on family and other circumstances, but if you were already on the edge, then that kind of pay cut can send you tumbling over the fiscal cliff – into the hands of payday loan companies, who may not always have your best interests at heart.
At the same time, the banks are hammering people with insiduous and unfair bank charges. And what reward has Stephen Hester, chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, recently been given for collecting these charges from those struggling to make ends meet? A £6m bonus! £6m?While thousands of our fellow citizens are having to resort to payday loan companies and hundreds of thousands of children are growing up in poverty.
Another group of people who arguably are being overpaid at present are the majority of the players at Newcastle United, who so spectacularly underperformed and underachieved last season. Yes, we had injuries to key players, but all clubs have them. It really is pretty disgraceful that supporters, who again came third top of their league table, the Premier League attendances for 2012-13, were watching a team who came fifth bottom of the league itself. Papis Cisse might have a stronger case in his campaign not to wear the Wonga.com logo, if he wasn’t asking for a pay-rise himself, after a season which can best be described as mediocre, even taking into account vital goals against Stoke City and Fulham as relegation loomed near the end of the season.
However, there is also a strong case for suggesting that sponsorship by a pay-day loan company, even one such as Wonga, which is not seen as amongst the worst, is not really appropriate for Newcastle United. Given the levels of poverty and suffering, in Northeast England, under the Government’s austerity programme and the reliance so many in our region must have on payday loan companies and their astronomical rates of interest, then there really should be concern at the deal.
News from the Coalition of Resistance
Recently there was the huge success of the national People’s Assembly, with over 4000 people attending the launch event. Around 20 NE activists took part in a meeting during the national People’s Assembly, in the workshop session where we had an opportunity to break into local/regional groups. Here is a summary of what’s coming up in the next few months:
2 July: Newcastle ‘report back’ meeting from the People’s Assembly, 7pm, Brunswick Methodist Church (next to Monument)
12 July: Durham People’s Assembly launch meeting with Owen Jones, 5.30pm, Redhills (miners’ HQ) in Durham City
13 July: Durham Miners’ Gala – we will have a People’s Assembly stall and need volunteers to help distribute our flyers
27 July: Regional Bedroom Tax demo in Newcastle
14 September: regional People’s Assembly in Newcastle
29 September: north east transport to national Save Our NHS demo at Conservative Party conference in Manchester
5 November: national day of civil disobedience and direct action
14 September Speakers include OWEN JONES columnist and author of Chavs: the demonisation of the working class
10am – 5pm
Speakers include Owen Jones author of Chavs; the demonisation of the working-class
BOOK YOUR PLACE NOW >
£6 Tickets/£3 Concessions – For more info >nepeopleassembly.Eventbrite.co.uk
© Peter Sagar June 2013