Church groups in UK call for ‘jubilee fund’ to pay off coronavirus debt of low-income families

London, Big Ben, UK
Big Ben in London |

Churches in the United Kingdom are urging their government to help pay off or cancel debts for low-income families struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Baptist Union of Great Britain, Church Action on Poverty, The Church of Scotland, The Methodist Church and The United Reformed Church recently released a report, titled Reset the Debt: A fresh start for families in Britain swept into debt by Covid-19, highlighting that “low-income families with children were particularly badly hit" during lockdowns this year.

About six million people in the U.K., mostly those living on low incomes or with little or no savings, are estimated to have gone into debt as a result of COVID-19.

"These households saw their wages fall fastest while their cost of living increased. However, lockdown tended to have the opposite financial effect on higher-income families, who on average were able to increase their savings and reduce their credit card and other debt," the report states.

For the poorest fifth of households, median earnings fell by 15%, or roughly $200 per month, within two months of lockdown and “low-income families are turning to friends and family as well as to credit cards and overdrafts to make ends meet." 

According to the report, one in five households borrowed to buy food or other essentials in July; six million people have fallen behind on rent, council tax and other household bills because of the coronavirus; and 174,000 tenants have been threatened with eviction during the lockdown.

The church denominations have proposed that the chancellor (the chief financial minister) create a Jubilee Fund. “This would provide grants to pay off and cancel unavoidable debt accrued by households during the lockdown period, giving them a more stable platform from which to face the future.”

The churches say they are “inspired by the biblical principle of Jubilee.”

In the Old Testament, they explain, Jubilee meant a resetting of debts and obligations, allowing relationships to be rebuilt, communities to be re-balanced and people’s dignity to be restored.

“We believe people swept into debt by Covid-19 now need a Jubilee.”

The churches say “compassionate government action” is needed “to offer a just future for all.”

The Rev. Richard Teal, president of the Methodist Conference, told Premier Christian News, “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 Joint Public Issues Team, of which these churches are all a part, stated, “As Christians, we see Jubilee as being about more than just economics.”

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