Neil McNicholas: Tempting fate with ‘jam tomorrow’ adverts

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IT always confounds me when I see those life insurance adverts on the television – usually endorsed by some much-revered celebrity.

It’s not what he or she says that is important because they only tell you what the company concerned wants you to hear.

It’s the small print at the bottom of the screen that they hope no one will notice but which they are obliged by law to display – except it isn’t displayed as well or as prominently as it should be and could be.

It says something to the effect that if you stop paying your premiums you won’t get any money back; that inflation may reduce the value of what you have contributed; and that you may end up paying more than you eventually receive (not that you personally will receive anything anyway because you’ll be dead).

So why bother? – paying I mean, not dying. Why do these insurance companies expect people to commit themselves to paying premiums for the rest of their lives only for it to have lost value by the time it has to be repaid?

Why not simply open a savings account at a bank or building society where it will at least gain some interest or even (and I’m being facetious here) just put it in an envelope under your mattress? At least that way you will
still have your money in case you need it, and if you don’t need it it’s there to pay funeral bills or as a bequest as intended. To me this is just one more example of the way in which commercial interests of one sort or another are currently trying every way they can to get their hands on people’s money.

As many are increasingly struggling to pay bills and other monies that they owe, take note of all the “pay day loan” companies that are advertising on television, in ever growing numbers, encouraging people into even further debt with the temptation of easy money.

It’s an example of the White Queen’s offer in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass of “jam tomorrow”, pie-in-the-sky promises of better things to come. If people are in debt, how is borrowing even more money going to get them out of debt?

There are agencies trying to advise and help people in how to manage their debts – surely these would be better given the air time rather than those companies trying to encourage people to take on even further debt? Jam tomorrow is a great temptation but it’s a temptation to which no one should be contributing.

It’s the same with all the adverts for online betting – these, too, are on the increase, tempting people to part with what little money they may have in the hope of winning “the big one” and the promise, again, of “jam tomorrow”.

And it’s the same with the proliferation of online bingo clubs, and of online gambling in the form of casino games – and, of course, lottery tickets. Because bingo has a more homely social image, it may seem to be just a game compared to betting or gambling.

But they are all games of chance of one sort or another and the attraction is the promise of making easy money in the convenience and comfort of your own home, a home many are in danger of losing by giving in to this further temptation.

In a free market economy all of these companies and organisations have, of course, every right to ply their trade, 
and yet just because they can doesn’t mean they should or that they be allowed to.

Given the straitened times in which many people currently find themselves, is there not an ethical principle to be considered? The constant (and increasing) targeting of those already in difficult financial waters that we see daily on our television screens, luring them into even greater levels of debt, somehow seems wrong.

It’s like allowing a fast food restaurant to open a franchise in a health farm. They may have every right to trade but not there, it’s just not necessary. To put that sort of temptation in the way of hungry people is ethically wrong and more principled minds need to hold sway.

It doesn’t make any moral sense to induce people to borrow money when they may already be struggling to pay their bills – banks and building societies wouldn’t do it. To “pay day loan” companies, however, it obviously does make tremendous financial sense because of the outrageous interest rates that they charge in the first place and the rate at which they increase when people default on their repayments.

There’s blood in the water and it is attracting predators from all directions. Do these companies not have any moral misgivings about what they are doing – in many cases quite literally compounding people’s misery?

Neil McNicholas

*Neil McNicholas is a parish priest in Middlesbrough.