Opinion

Time to fix a right royal mess

"Let’s focus on this: the Queen is partly funding an organisation that grows rich on the needs of the poorest of her subjects"

The Queen

In late October, BrightHouse, the rent-to-own firm, was ordered to pay £14.8m for mistreating customers.

The company offers those with poor credit files and little ready money access to goods they couldn’t otherwise afford. However, this modern version of HP comes at a considerable cost. The cheapest washing machine offered by BrightHouse, for which a similar model costs around £250 on the high street, totalled £1,056.12 over three years.

This is a poverty premium. If you are in need, and you can’t afford it, you’re going to pay even more. And if you get into difficulty, that’s going to cost more too.

BrightHouse said they’d pony up. They apologised. But that was after the fact.

If you are in need, and you can’t afford it, you’re going to pay even more

Last week, there was much noise around the Paradise Papers – details about where the super-wealthy were funnelling their cash to deliver bigger returns and cut tax liabilities. I’m sanguine about much of it. That Lewis Hamilton gets cute to save VAT on a gaudy plane is galling, but such things go on. Of course, it’s doubly frustrating because it’s the wealthiest protecting their wealth AND denying income to essential services. Try telling your boss you’d like PAYE paid through a holding company in the Isle of Man.

Those working on regular wages lose a bigger percentage of their income to keep the wheels of the nation turning. The thorny issue of pension funds, which will ultimately benefit many of us, holding positions in tax-favourable offshore places, remains unresolved. Though, increasingly, there are alternatives.

However, it was a piece within the Paradise Papers that has been broadly brushed over that is most difficult to take. The Queen invested in BrightHouse. The papers revealed that the Duchy of Lancaster, the body managing the Queen’s investments, put some of her money into BrightHouse.

Let’s leave to one side the incredible revelation that the Queen, the head of state, whose name is on the tax-enforcing body of Britain, had people representing her finding ways to (legally, yes) not contribute. Instead, let’s focus on this – she is partly funding an organisation that grows rich on the needs of the poorest of her subjects.

What the Queen says and does matters. When The Sun ran their front page about the Queen backing Brexit, it hugely bolstered the Leave campaign. And as Christmas approaches, millions of families will look forward to the Queen’s traditional message. For many, she represents something important and honourable.

It’s simply not good enough for the Queen’s estate to support something that profits on the poorest

It’s simply not good enough for her estate to support something that profits on the poorest.

At The Big Issue we’ve been seeking ways to help the poorest not be punished for being poor. John Bird has been pushing his Creditworthiness Assessment Bill through parliament, to make sure that something as simple as a good rental payment record will be added to a credit file so credit becomes affordable. So that essential goods don’t become millstones.

Big Issue Invest is backing a new breed of social enterprise lenders who don’t cripple with shameful interest rates. This is just the start.

The Duchy Of Lancaster should get in touch. Bright ideas can better BrightHouse.

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