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Credit and CommunityWorking-Class Debt in the UK since 1880$
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Sean O'Connell

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780199263318

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199263318.001.0001

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The moneylender unmasked

The moneylender unmasked

(p.131) 4 The moneylender unmasked
Credit and Community

Sean O'Connell (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines parliamentary investigations of moneylending, explaining the often unintended consequences of legislation and offering insights for contemporary anti-debt debates. The Moneylenders Act 1900, aimed largely at the alleged misdemeanours of Jewish moneylenders, encouraged the registration of thousands of female lenders who provided small, expensive loans to female neighbours. Though labelled ‘she usurers’ by anti-debt campaigners, borrowers offered more ambivalent, less price-sensitive perspectives on their role in reciprocal networks. The gendered and localized nature of lending is explored via oral evidence gathered in Belfast. The Moneylenders Act 1927 increased registration fees and capped interest rates at 48%. Licensed lenders reduced markedly and the sector stagnated until the 1950s. However, numerous small-scale moneylenders retreated to the subterranean illegal market. Evidence from Glasgow suggests that violence against debtors increased as a result, although repayment was usually ensured via reliance on borrowers' sense of obligation or low level harassment.

Keywords:   Moneylenders Acts, anti-Semitism, backstreet lenders, usury, interest rates, gender and lending, Belfast, Glasgow

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