Assembly to call for anti-usury laws

A gathering of more than 2,000 people from 150 civil-society organisations, churches, mosques and synagogues, will call on Wednesday evening (25 November) for the UK to introduce a ceiling on interest rates. The move follows evidence gathered over many months of listening to the impact on ordinary people of the financial crisis.

Among those responding to the five-point call by London Citizens - the city's community alliance of faith congregations, charities, trade union branches - will be politicians from the main parties (Stephen Timms, Greg Hands, Vince Cable), leading financiers (Corporation of London, the British Bankers' Association, Barclays, KPMG, PwC,) and bodies such as Fair Finance and

"Despite historically low interest rates and a massive taxpayer bailout of the banks, ordinary people across London have been forced into the hands of legal loan sharks in order to gain access to credit," said Paul Regan, London Citizens trustee. "It's time to restore responsibility."

The London Citizens Autumn Assembly will also see the launch of a new economics foundation (nef) report, Doorstep Robbery - Why the UK needs a fair lending law, which argues for a cap on the cost of credit as well as new rules which would oblige banks to make more loans available to the less well-off.

The study by Veronika Thiel reveals that 3m UK households pay hundreds of thousands to "legal loan sharks" because of lack of access to credit from banks. London Citizens and nef argue that the UK should follow the example of major European countries and introduce a cap on the cost of lending by financial institutions, thus making borrowing at interest rates of 50 or 500% illegal. Doorstep Robbery shows that in Germany and France poor people have greater access to mainstream credit than in the UK - disproving the Government's stated objection that such curbs reduce the flow of credit.

As well as a cap on interest rates, the assembly will call for an expansion of local, mutual banking such as credit unions, to ensure the low-paid have access to mainstream credit; a financial literacy programme for schools; a statutory code of responsible lending; and the expansion of the living wage, a basic family minimum which is the best insurance against debt.

The agenda has been drawn up through six months of listening campaigns, surveys, and democratic assemblies, attended by leaders from London Citizens members in south, east and west London. Members are mostly churches, mosques, synagogues, charities, trade union branches and ethnic associations.

The London Citizens Autumn Assembly will also include London's mayor, Boris Johnson, who at a previous assembly attended by the mayoral candidates in April 2008 pledged to back the London Living Wage and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented migrants. The mayor recently backed  London Citizens' CitySafe campaign, a community-based response to street violence, by declaring City Hall to be a "safe haven".

The evening will include powerful testimonies from ordinary people whose lives have been destroyed by legal loan sharks, and readings by faith leaders - including Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Mgr John Armitage, Dr Abdul Bari (MCB) and Revd Ermal Kirby - which recall the prohibitions on exorbitant lending in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions.

Also on the night, Tessa Jowell, Olympics minister, and Andrew Altman, chief executive of the Olympic Park Legacy Company, will be asked to include a Community Land Trust for affordable housing on the Olympics site.

There will be dance groups, beat poets and singers in the foyer, as well as acrobatic street dancers and a specially commissioned London Citizens choir.

Schools and young people will be involved in the presentations and acts.

London Citizens assemblies include moments of political drama. The 25th November
will be no exception.

For more details see:

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