Coronavirus  

Another rule for banks

Alison Steed

Alison Steed

There is nothing quite so annoying as helping someone out in a time of crisis, only to discover when the position is reversed and you need help, that someone seems to be ‘terribly busy’.

That is exactly how I feel the UK’s banks are behaving right now during the Covid-19 pandemic as millions of people and hundreds of thousands of businesses find themselves facing financial ruin, closure and even bankruptcy.

It was only 12 years ago at the start of the financial crisis in 2008 that the banks themselves – in a situation of their own making, let us not forget – were going to the UK government cap in hand asking for help.

The government gave the help they said they needed, because the feeling at the time was that the banks could not be allowed to fail. It was unthinkable, impossible, it would create such a level of damage to the economy that we would struggle to recover from it. And we did, to be fair.

The years of austerity that us taxpayers endured as a result of those hefty bailouts had barely come to an end before the Covid-19 crisis hit.

However, we did it. We were ‘in it together’, as it were.

There were also some people who had undoubtedly benefited from the way the banks had been operating. For example, some people on self-certification mortgages were clearly unable to qualify for some of the loans they received to buy property.

But they got them just the same, and the properties they bought with them saw their prices rise over time. Yes, there was a property crash that followed the crisis, but it was relatively short-lived.

I do not mean to denigrate anyone who really suffered during that period of time, either, because to be at risk of losing, or to actually lose, a home is quite possibly one of the worst things that can happen to you.

Yet, there is no question that even if you became a property magnate in the years that the banks were playing fast and loose with the rules and packaging up their securitised loans, you still would not have benefited anywhere near as much as the banks themselves did.

So, fast forward just over a decade to now as we all try to navigate the Covid-19 crisis and what it means: not just in terms of whether or not we can see our friends and family without having to wear a hazmat suit, but for businesses and individuals who are finding themselves on the wrong side of the financial impact.

Around a quarter of UK employees have been furloughed in the UK, according to figures from HM Revenue & Customs.

Some 800,000 businesses had laid off staff temporarily as at May 3, with the cost of the government’s furlough scheme expected to be £39bn between March and June, according to figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility.