New College of the Humanities

Advice to the Teens

Loan sharks, youth debt, peer pressure and parental responsibility are not just issues of the moment. Nicola Phillips tells the story of a young Regency buck who pushed his father a financial step too far.

An illustration by Robert Cruikshank to the 1821 edition of Egan's Life in London shows debtors in the Fleet PrisonAs we grapple with economic crises and easy credit, government overspending and a generation of parents whose expenditure threatens to saddle their children with crippling debts, concerns about profligacy and indebtedness have grown. The Citizens’ Advice Bureau lists debt as a major issue facing young people under 25, most of which relates to personal loans, overuse of store cards and bank overdrafts. Buying goods on credit rather than with cash is commonplace and students face unprecedented levels of debt from the moment they start university. In the early 19th century, when the use of credit was equally ubiquitous, questions about the acquisition and responsibility for debt were remarkably similar to those faced by families today. Who is most at fault? The youth who cannot control his desire to buy fashionable goods, the shopkeepers who encourage purchases on credit, or the parent who has failed to instil a sense of financial responsibility? And who is legally or morally liable for the repayment of such debts?

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