Look Left – Wonga’s student ‘scam’ comes unstuck

Wonga: Their annoying adverts are everywhere, they continue to prey on the vulnerable, yet this week, we got them to take down a page targeting students.


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• Wonga: Their annoying adverts are everywhere, they continue to prey on the vulnerable, yet this week, Left Foot Forward got them to take down a page targeting students.

Here’s the story:

On Wednesday afternoon, we discovered the payday loan company Wonga.com had a page on their site aimed at convincing students to take out their high-interest loans.

This alone would have been bad enough, but the page was posing as friendly financial advice, while giving some of the incredibly dangerous advice, including recommending students take out the minimum student loan possible and top it up with Wonga loans, and suggesting they pay for holidays with loans which can top 4,000 per cent APR.

We broke the news with a post highlighting some of the worst advice on the page, explaining why the payday loans were so unsound, and giving advice to students as to what they could do instead of taking them out.

The story spread fast. We gained the support of Labour MP Stella Creasy – who has long campaigned on this issue – and the University and College Union (UCU), each of whom spread our original piece, with other groups joining the campaign.

The Helena Kennedy Foundation expressed their concern, and Martin Lewis of moneysavingexpert.com sent out an excoriating tweet.

By 6:00, our original story had been reposted on Comment is Free, and just hours later, Wonga took down the original page, replacing it with an apology, but denying they had every been actively targeting students.

Although we got them to stop, they still have much to explain. As we showed in a follow-up, their claim they weren’t actively targeting students is demonstrably false, and the fact remains that many students simply do not know the risk they are getting themselves into if they take these loans.

As we said yesterday, Wonga have a lot of questions left to answer about the extent to which they prey on vulnerable groups, but the first thing they need to do is come completely clean about the fact that that is indeed what they have been doing to date.

• Ed Balls will set out his plans for an “economic alternative” tomorrow, at the end of another week of grim figures and following Ed Miliband’s “fairness in difficult times” speech.

The shadow chancellor will be delivering the keynote speech, of which we’ll have details tomorrow morning on Left Foot Forward, to the Fabian Society New Year Conference. He is expected to discuss the government’s failure to deliver growth, the need for fiscal discipline, and the political challenge facing Labour.

On Tuesday, Miliband outlined how Labour, if elected, would deliver fairness in the “different landscape” of the “new reality” post-2015. The Labour leader said the party would have to govern in a different way to the last time it was in power, and will have to deal with a big deficit.

He said:

“We live in tough times. In the years ahead there will be less money to spend. It’s a challenge for Labour. It’s the same challenge facing parties on the centre-left all around the world. And it’s a challenge for me. A challenge I relish.

“We always said the deficit had to be reduced. But in a steady and balanced way. And we warned that trying to cut spending and raise taxes too far and too fast would make it harder to get that deficit down. The government has proved that prediction was correct in just 18 months.

“But the failure of George Osborne’s economic policy creates a different landscape for the 2015 General Election and whoever wins it…

“Whoever is the next prime minister will not have money to spend. We will have to make difficult choices that all of us wish we did not have to make. Labour knows what fairness means. It always will. But we must rethink how we achieve it for Britain.”


“Everyone is now joining us talking about the squeezed middle, the next generation and responsible capitalism.

“But it’s not enough just to talk about them. Suddenly David Cameron is falling over himself to say he too is burning with passion to take on ‘crony capitalism’. Now he has accepted this the battleground of politics, I say: ‘Bring it on.’

“The core belief of David Cameron is that we can solve the problems Britain faces by government getting out of the way. His answer to the problems thrown up by an economic crisis caused by faith in free market fundamentalism, is simply more of the same.”

His three principles for delivering fairness, he said, are:

“First, reforming our economy so we have long-term wealth creation with rewards fairly shared. Second, tackling vested interests that squeeze the living standards of families across our country. Third, making choices that favour the hard working majority.”

Miliband’s non-relaunch re-launch followed a torrid start to the year, with the Diane Abbott race row, his own Twitter gaffe, and Lord Glasman’s attack that he had “no strategy, no narrative and little energy”.

On Left Foot Forward, however, Cormac Hollingsworth countered that Glasman was merely “battling over postage stamps”, and was missing the big picture priority, namely growth, concluding:

“Glasman is wrong. We should be completely focused on boosting growth.”

On the figures, Tony Burke wrote about how manufacturing’s recovery had ended “before it starts”:

“It has been a gloomy start to 2012 so far for the government. Not two weeks into the New Year and worse than expected manufacturing figures for the last quarter of 2011 – the worst since 2009… Stagnation and a double dip recession are looming and the government has no idea how to guide us through it.”

While Tony Dolphin explained how the growth revision shows the economic recovery is “off track”:

“It would be wrong to be too gloomy. History suggests the statisticians might find some more growth in 2011 too. But this is shaping up to be the slowest recovery in the UK in the post-war period.”

Also this week on Left Foot Forward on the economy, see Tony Dolphin’s latest Economic Update; Alex Hern on the evidence the 50p top rate of tax is raising revenue; Dr Graham Cookson on the false economy of the legal aid cuts; and Daniel Elton on how manufacturing, even if it’s saved, won’t save us.

And, looking ahead to tomorrow’s conference, see Stewart Lansley, author of “The Cost of Inequality: Three Decades of the Super-Rich and the Economy”, on how inequality must be ended to prevent another financial crisis; Fabian deputy general secretary Marcus Roberts on “politics v economics”; and Young Fabian chair Sara Ibrahim on how we can have a “fairer capitalism”.

• The government’s welfare reform bill looks an even bigger mess than it did last week, with ministers looking increasingly incompetent and the House of Lords defeating parts of it.

On Wednesday night, peers voted down plans to means-test employment and support allowance – which would have applied to cancer patients and stroke survivors (222-166); proposals for time limits on the benefits (234-186); and restrictions on young people claiming them (260-216) – yet the first of these appeared to have been overturned later that night.

As Left Foot Forward reported today:

“In an unprecedented move later that evening, after most of the crossbench peers who had inflicted the defeat on government had left the chamber, Lord Freud moved an amendment which had the effect of undoing the coalition’s defeat on this issue.

“So the government is keen enough to cut support for people with early-onset or lifetime disabilities to play fast and loose with parliamentary procedure.”

Last night, disability campaigner Sue Marsh debated the reforms with employment minister Chris Grayling, and, at times, Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis, who seemed to be falling over herself to spin the coalition line, at one stage even accusing opponents of the reforms of “demonising the government”. Yes, really. Watch the debate and read a transcript of it here.

Throughout the interview, Grayling appeared not to understand the full horror of the reforms; wilful or otherwise, his ignorance is telling.

As Daniel Elton wrote:

“People who become disabled in adulthood and who have contributions records will be able to receive the non-means tested benefit if they are not expected to be able to work again.

“Mr Grayling thinks that his government intends to continue to provide non-means tested support to severely disabled people who have never worked, and seems to regards this as desirable.

“He is wrong on what the government has been trying to do, but if he does favour non-means tested support, all he has to do is reinstate the cross-bench amendment his colleague Lord Freud worked so hard and so duplicitously to overturn on Wednesday.”

The other incompetent minister to have been exposed this week is Minister for Disabled People Maria Miller, who, in a debate with Sue Marsh on Radio Five on Monday, appeared not to know to know how the legal aid cuts are affecting disabled people.

As Alex Hern wrote:

“Even Tory grandee Lord Newton has called the cumulative impact of the government’s legal aid and welfare reforms a “pincer movement” on disabled people.

“Miller’s comment on Radio Five exposed that the left hand of government doesn’t know what the right is doing. Worse, it highlighted that despite being the minister for disabled people, she is blissfully unaware of the impact of government policy on disabled people.”

Also on the welfare reform debate on Left Foot Forward this week, see Ben Baumberg, co-editor of the ‘Inequalities’ blog, on Labour’s failings on disability – and the way forward; a report on those Lords defeats; the Children’s Commissioner’s criticism of the welfare bill; Declan Gaffney on the need for everyone concerned about welfare reform to “step up to the mark”; and Alex Hern on the Spartacus Report (pdf).

Progressive of the week:

Transport secretary Justine Greening, who this week gave the green light to the HS2 High Speed Rail link up to Birmingham and then Leeds and Manchester. The project has been met with strong opposition, particularly from Tory councils that lie along the route, yet Greening, having made revisions to the proposals, has delivered.

The benefits are clear, as the Campaign for High Speed Rail explained on Left Foot Forward:

“HS2 is a long-term infrastructure investment that could help lead to regional job creation. In a report (pdf) from Core Cities released in June, leading economists estimated the creation of one million jobs outside of the South East rests on the rail capacity that HS2 will provide.

“Were the project to be cancelled, the UK would miss its chance to deal with a capacity crisis that would be irreversibly damaging for Britain’s railways. It would lead to increasingly disgruntled passengers and an inevitable political headache for the next Labour government. It would stand in the way of boosting economic productivity and job creation in the regions.”

In the not-too-distant future, Britain will finally have the makings of a rail network fit for the 21st century – not one dreamed up for the 19th.

Regressive of the week:

Daily Express owner Richard Desmond, who appeared before the Leveson Inquiry yesterday, and said he didn’t know the meaning of the word “ethical”, saying:

“We don’t talk about ethics or morals because it’s a very fine line, and everyone’s ethics are different.”

Desmond failed to show any contrition for the daily diet of poison and hate pumped out by the Express, choosing instead to lay into the Daily Mail, calling it the “Daily Malicious”, describing Mail editor Paul Dacre as “the fat butcher”, and adding:

“I think it’s Britain’s worst enemy, the Daily Mail. Their tone on everything is so negative.”

That’s right, the owner of a vicious, nasty right-wing rag taking the moral high ground over the Mail…

Earlier in the day, Express editor Hugh Whittow appeared before Leveson, making the bizarre claim the paper left the PCC because it failed to stop them printing defamatory material about the McCanns. You had to see it to believe it.

Evidence of the week:

The latest ‘Report on Jobs’ from the Recruitment Employment Confederation, which, as Left Foot Forward reported on Wednesday, reveals the jobs picture to be even worse than you might imagine.

As Richard Exell wrote:

“The report tells two stories: One – the deepening of the ‘jobs recession’ – is pretty simple, but the other is a bit more complicated: a downturn in temporary employment. The REC’s conclusion seems to be that this second story underlines the first and the jobs picture is even worse than you might imagine at first.

“The jobs recession has been a strong feature of the official employment figures for a while now and today’s figures give us a better understanding of what’s going on.

“The Recruitment and Employment Confederation is the trade body for employment agencies, which have a strong feel for the demand for labour in the upper half of the labour market. Agencies are less likely to be involved in recruiting less skilled, lower paid workers, where the Jobcentre Plus vacancy figures are a better guide.

“Jobcentre Plus vacancies never completely recovered from the recession and have been depressed for well over a year. REC figures for both temporary contracts and permanent placements, on the other hand, rose in a healthy manner at first.

“But appointments were slowing down through most of 2011 and in December, the number of people placed in permanent jobs fell for the third month in a row. December also saw the first fall in temporary and contract billings for two and a half years…

“If REC is reading their members’ responses correctly, employers are very insecure about the near future. Businesses may be overreacting, but it is hard to blame them for feeling insecure.”

This weekend on Left Foot Forward:


• Preview of Ed Balls’s speech to the Fabian New Year Conference.

• Will Straw pitches the idea of a British Investment Bank.

• The Week Outside Westminster, featuring all the news from this week’s debate on the Scottish independence referendum – sign up to receive it by email here.


• Report on the hidden legacy of the Stephen Lawrence case.

• The World Outside Westminster, including all the latest news from the Republican primary race – sign up to receive it by email here.

This week’s most read:

1. Time to step forward on the Spartacus reportAlex Hern

2. Disability minister ignorant on how legal aid cuts affecting disabled peopleAlex Hern

3. Women turned away from refuge shelters told to sleep in Occupy campsVera Baird QC

4. 2012 – the year the world must wake up to Christian persecutionEd Jacobs

5. Will 2012 see the first university bankruptcy?Alex Hern

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15 Responses to “Look Left – Wonga’s student ‘scam’ comes unstuck”

  1. Nick Leaton

    Ah yes. Wonga shouldn’t be allowed to get students into debt.

    That’s a monopoly that should be reserved for the government.

    On top of their student loans, each student’s share of the government debt, 225,000 pounds.

  2. Shamik Das

    Our look back at the week's news: RT @leftfootfwd: Look Left – Wonga’s student ‘scam’ comes unstuck: http://t.co/uRXmZ7cI by @ShamikDas

  3. Amanda Kendal

    Look Left – Wonga’s student ‘scam’ comes unstuck: http://t.co/UQMAuAet by @ShamikDas

  4. Kevin Meagher

    Brilliant work by my colleages @leftfootfwd shaming the shameless Wonga from targeting students http://t.co/hTdtAgEf An absolute must read

  5. Kevin Meagher

    RT @leftfootfwd: Look Left – Wonga’s student ‘scam’ comes unstuck http://t.co/KJBhJkas

Comments are closed.