500 church leaders have written to Rishi Sunak calling for him to do something to help the growing number of people put into debt because of Coronavirus.
The leaders include the Church of England Bishops of Durham and St Albans as well as Stepney and Edmonton, the General Secretary of the Baptist Union, the President of the Methodist Conference of Great Britain and Paula Stringer, the chief executive of Christians Against Poverty.
It is also signed by pastors from all over the country, from the Methodist tradition to Anglicans, plus the SNP MP Lisa Cameron.
Collectively, they say: “We are writing because we are gravely concerned about the growing crisis of household debt that millions of families are facing this Christmas.
“As church and Christian leaders from across the country, we have witnessed the hardship experienced by low income families during the pandemic. We have heard countless stories from people who have faced awful choices, such as between affording food or falling behind on rent.”
They add that because churches have been on the frontline of providing food to people over the pandemics, they can see the situation as an exception and requires “an exceptional response".
They highlight how The Resolution Foundation found that 54% of the lowest income families have needed to borrow to pay for necessities during the pandemic and argue that by August 2020, six million people had fallen behind on at least one household bill.
“Rental arrears increased dramatically during lockdown and 350,000 households have been contacted by their landlords about eviction," they wrote. "Tragically, it is families with children who are worst affected. For many, this will be a frightening Christmas period.”
The charity Stepchange believers that 2.87 million people are at a high risk of long-term debt because of the pandemic, with the church leaders pointing out that this will cause significant mental health concerns and debilitating consequences for children as well.
“We are asking that you work with communities, churches, charities and creditors to create a comprehensive and just solution to the unique problem of lockdown debt," they said. "Our ambition must go beyond delay or avoidance of eviction. This Christmas is a time to give families burdened by debt a fresh start and a more hopeful future.”
Hannah Brown, from the ‘Reset the Debt’ campaign run by the Christian group Joint Public Issues Team, told Premier: “We're calling on the Chancellor to set up something called a Jubilee Fund that's inspired by the biblical principle of Jubilee. That's all about resetting debt, so buying-up and paying-off debt so that people aren't held back by it anymore.”