The Occupy Movement has found an unlikely ally in a senior Bank of England official, Andrew Haldane, who has praised protesters for their role in triggering an overhaul of the financial services sector.
Haldane, who oversees the City for the central bank, said Occupy acted as a lever on policymakers despite criticism that its aims were too vague. He said the protest movement was right to focus on inequality as the chief reason for the 2008 crash, following studies that showed the accumulation of huge wealth funded by debt was directly responsible for the domino-like collapse of the banking sector in 2008.
Speaking at a debate held by the Occupy Movement in central London, Haldane said regulations limiting credit use would undermine attempts by individuals to accumulate huge property and financial wealth at the expense of other members of society. Allowing banks to lend on a massive scale also drained funding from other industries, adding to the negative impact that unregulated banks had on the economy, he said.
The hard-hitting speech is unlikely to find a warm welcome in the Square Mile, which is keen for bank lending to recover to its heady pre-crisis levels and bring accompanying profits and commissions. Lending to individuals and corporations in the UK has fallen to a fraction of the levels seen in 2007 when few banks checked the income status of individual borrowers or the risks being taken by corporate customers before offering a loan. The Bank of England will impose stricter lending rules on banks next year when it takes over regulation of the industry from the Financial Services Authority.
Haldane said Occupy's voice had been "loud and persuasive" and that "policymakers have listened and are acting in ways which will close those fault-lines" with a "reformation of finance that Occupy has helped stir". He said inequality was fuelled by bank lending for speculation on property and other assets that enriched some in society at the expense of others.
"The asset-rich, in particular the owner-occupying rich, became a lot richer. Meanwhile, the asset-less and indebted fell further behind. In other words, the pre-crisis asset price bubble acted like a regressive tax," he said.
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