A number of senior UK faith leaders have urged Chancellor Rishi Sunak to commit to cancelling debt owed by the world’s poorest countries in light of coronavirus.
In their letter, more than 70 bishops, rabbis, imams and other faith leaders urged the chancellor to show “ambition and leadership” in his meeting with G20 finance ministers later this week. In April, the ministers agreed to suspend debt payments for 77 countries, but faith leaders say debt payments for this year and next year must be cancelled in light of the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating impact on poor nations.
The letter reads: “The immediate risks the coronavirus poses to poverty reduction efforts are both clear and shocking. In total, the World Bank estimates that between 71-100 million people risk falling into extreme poverty as a result of the pandemic. The World Food Programme forecasts that around 270 million people around the world will face acute food insecurity by the end of this year, a doubling of the approximately 130 million who suffered severe food shortages last year. The International Labour Organization predicts that up to 340m jobs could be lost.
“To insist on debt repayment in the face of the suffering caused by this pandemic would be an affront to the faith traditions that we represent.
"Indeed, there is an overarching moral case for debt relief in many faiths.
"Texts in both the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament call for debt cancellation and for making good debt relationships every seven years, with a jubilee every fiftieth year. The Qur’an challenges debt by strongly criticising charging interest and speaks against prosecuting those who cannot repay debts back."
The letter also quotes Pope Francis, who this year declared that it was not right “to demand or expect [debt] payment when the effect would be the imposition of political choices leading to hunger and despair for entire peoples”.
The leaders added: “These are not normal times and we must respond accordingly. This crisis has emphasised the need to stand together, and debt cancellation represents an urgent and essential means of assisting the most vulnerable communities to withstand the suffering the pandemic will otherwise and unnecessarily cause.”
The letter's signatories included former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Wales John Davies, Gavin Calver, the CEO of the Evangelical Alliance, HTB's Rev Nicky Gumbel and New Wine national leader Paul Harcourt, along with the heads of several charities including Christian Aid, Cafod and Tearfund.