Dear Mr Cameron,
If you want more than to just post sticking plasters on people’s finances – to end energy switching fears, protect vulnerable consumers, stop millions being screwed by voracious banks in scandals like PPI, bank charges and endowments, and prevent crisis debts – I’ve an easy and cheap solution for you – compulsory financial education in every school.
And I’m not on my own here. Yesterday, delightfully, the 100,000th person signed my e-petition on your website which means Parliament must now consider a debate on it. To ensure that happens, we’ve joined with MPs like Justin Tomlinson to navigate it through the back bench committee. I hope you’ll help that happen.
We need more than just Westminster hot air
Yet we need more than just the hot air of Westminster. Frankly politicians of all parties need to hang their heads in shame. It’s a national disgrace that for 20 years now we’ve educated our young into debt when they go to university, but never educated them about debt.
The impact of that has hit more than just graduates. It means we’ve eroded the stigma of borrowing. In itself that’s no bad thing, after all, in today’s day and age if you want to get a house or go on to higher education, borrowing is virtually mandatory.
But the shame is we did it without ever considering what’d replace it. Debt isn’t bad, bad debt is bad. We should’ve created a stigma of bad borrowing, instead we’ve tried to make debt flogging lenders ‘responsible’, rather than giving people the tools to be responsible borrowers – knowing how and when it’s appropriate and where to safely get it.
Too many learn the hard way, mired with debts from their first forays into adulthood that drape them in a heavy cloak of financial darkness for years.
The squeeze is on
Now the squeeze is on. It’s hitting many families, and guess what? Your own short term solution is education, albeit by another name. I met you at the energy summit a couple of weeks ago and told you it’d be deemed a failure if prices didn’t come down.
Your big solution…to run a campaign to get people to switch. I’m with you on that, it is the perfect time to switch, but to be fair, people like me have been yelling that for ten years. Do you really think some posters and letters from energy companies will generate a consumer revolution of the scale needed. People are scared, confused and lack trust.
Of course real education isn’t a quick fix, it’ll take years to have a real impact, probably a long time after you hang up your Prime Ministerial boots. Yet what a legacy it’d be. After all, companies spend billions on marketing and teaching their staff to sell – isn’t it time we gave buyers training.
It’s cheap and easy to introduce
Of course to educate the whole population isn’t easy, that’s why the most efficient system to break the cycle of financial illiteracy is to get it in every school’s classroom. Every able child should have a decent understanding of how our highly complex consumer economy works – about borrowing and spending – impulse control and embracing competition.
Banks have seen the opportunity of sending in branded projects – which is clever as many people stick with their first bank for life. But I’d far prefer it if we didn’t send just one in, but five at a time, to teach children to compare them and make companies fight for their business.
The dire need is for education from unbiased teaching sources. Wonderfully some schools already do it, but the majority don’t and this unequal opportunity is not acceptable in today’s dog eat dog economy. Unless it’s compulsory and on the curriculum, head teachers can’t prioritise it. Public support for this is huge, 97% polled agree, yet we still await politicians to deliver.
If you’re worried about the cost, where it’d be put on the timetable and how to minimise the burden on already overstretched teachers, don’t. Content is abundant and an All-Party Group of MPs is about to complete its investigation on how we can deliver this, having taken evidence from campaigners, charities like PFEG, teachers, banks and more. Its report is due soon, as they believe implementing financial education in schools can be done easily, with minimum disruption.
We have one of the world’s most complex consumer economies; don’t you think it’s time our children were taught how to thrive and survive in it? You can make it happen.