Never possessing a marketable skill, either manual or intellectual, I always had a great admiration for those who would use their skills for the benefit of others, without charging anything for the work they have done. Whether it was the electrician or plumber who did work for an elderly neighbour and said there was no charge, or the solicitor who provided legal assistance to members of poor communities on a pro bono basis, or the doctors who paid their own expenses and used their holidays to go to work in clinics in rural parts of the developing world, there was always a sense of admiration for those who did something simply because it was a good thing to do. (A cynic would argue that people who volunteer their time and skill might find non-pecuniary rewards in such activity, that it was never entirely selfless, but cynics tend not to do very much for anyone, anyway).
My first encounter with Martin Lewis was when I was working as a carer with elderly people, his television programme would be the background sound to evening visits. Among the daily line-up of soaps and trivia, the straightforward no-nonsense discussion of how ordinary people could save money, substantial amounts of it, seemed something very practical, very relevant to the lives of those watching, very beneficial to those who heeded its advice.
Martin Lewis seemed that sort of man who would have perfectly fitted into the lessons of my Douglas Howe, my economics teacher forty years ago. Mr Howe would explain that if capitalism was really to work for the benefit of ordinary people, there had to be perfect competition. He would take us through the requirements of what was required if a market for goods was to be perfectly competitive. His favourite illustration of a market that was nearly perfect competition was that of the London barrow boys, selling fruit in the street, but, as most of us had rarely, if ever, been to London, his point was mostly lost.
Perfect competition requires that all firms and all consumers know the prices set by all firms, otherwise consumers may pay far in excess of what they need. Of course, the people with the weakest knowledge of the options available tended to be those with the weakest access to information and transport. In plain terms, poor people often paid the most when they were the people least able to do so.
Martin Lewis is someone who has begun to turn the tables. The Martin Lewis Money Show and the Money Saving Expert website offer information, for free, in a way that is understandable for deals that are straightforward. Of course, the company behind them is a profitable enterprise, but so then are the businesses of the plumbers, electricians, solicitors and doctors who work pro bono.
Being one of the people that Martin Lewis has saved hundreds of pounds, I hope he has a happy Christmas.