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Church denominations call for debt cancellation among poorest households

by Cara Bentley

Four church denominations have called for the Government to pay off debt caused by lockdown among the poorest in the country. 

The Baptist Union of Great Britain, Church Action on Poverty, The Church of Scotland, The Methodist Church and The United Reformed Church say the Government should create a 'Jubilee Fund' to cancel unavoidable debt caused by coronavirus and give the least well-off a more stable platform to face winter. 

It is thought that 6 million people in the UK have fallen behind on rent, council tax and other household bills because of coronavirus and almost one in five have borrowed money to pay for essentials such as food. 

The Joint Public Issues Team (of which the churches are all a part) say low income families have been particularly badly hit, especially those with children. Younger workers, people from BAME communities and those with caring responsibilities have been disproportionately affected by job losses due to the pandemic, and many therefore have been forced to borrow to make ends meet.  

Revd Richard Teal, President of the Methodist Conference, said: "The fact that Covid debt has disproportionately affected low income families demands a compassionate and just response. For the benefit of families and wider communities, the aim of this campaign is to bring stability and a more hopeful future for millions of people currently struggling to cover the basics of life. These people cannot be forgotten as we move into what will be a challenging winter ahead."

The campaign states: "To cover the unavoidable household debt accrued during lockdown, the charity Stepchange estimates that an amount in the region of £5 billion will be needed. This could be funded through Government borrowing, with interest rates approaching 0 per cent, recognising that these are costs that should be shared across society. The Government may wish to be the sole contributor, or ask lenders who will benefit from the scheme indirectly to contribute appropriately."

A Jubilee is an Old Testament Biblical concept where, on a regular basis, land would be returned to people, slaves freed and debts forgiven. The churches argue that politicians should 'reset the debt' and allow families in poverty to start over. 

Rachel Lampard, team leader of the Joint Public Issues Team said: "As Christians, we see Jubilee as being about more than just economics. The Jubilee principle allows relationships to be reset, communities to be re-balanced, and people's dignity to be restored. This is the well-being that God desires for all people.  That is why we are asking the Chancellor for a Jubilee Fund to pay and cancel the debts of people who have been swept into debt by Covid-19."

Supporters are being asked to write to their MP. 

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