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Religious leaders in UK call for cancellation rather than suspension of debt

By Ann Marie Foley - 14 July, 2020

Catholic bishops and representatives of other faiths and religions in the UK have urged the government there to seek debt cancellation for poorer countries struggling with the effects of COVID-19.

“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,” the leaders state in a letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

“There is an overarching moral case for debt relief in many faiths,” they say, asking the Chancellor to make the request for the cancellation, rather than suspension, of debt at the G20 finance summit at the end of this week (18-19 July).

Bishop Declan Lang, Bishop of Clifton and chair of the Bishops’ Department for International Affairs, and Bishop John Arnold, Bishop of Salford and the lead bishop for environmental affairs, are among the 77 leaders who signed the letter.

In it, they welcome the efforts at the G20 finance ministers’ meeting in April towards the temporary suspension of debts owed by the world’s poorest 77 countries, but asked the ministers to now consider cancelling bilateral debt payments. The faith leaders also urge the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and private creditors to cancel debt payments owed in 2020 and 2021 by these countries.

They say that debt cancellation will help ensure that health workers in developing countries can fight the virus. The extra resources will also help countries to rebuild the economy after the economic devastation of the pandemic.

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 340 million jobs could be lost.

Bishop Arnold

The faith leaders highlight Hebrew and New Testament scriptures that call for debt cancellation and for making good debt relationships every seven years, with a jubilee every 50th year. They also state that the Qur’an challenges debt by strongly criticising charging interest and speaks against prosecuting those who cannot repay debts back.

In the letter, they quote Pope Francis’ Easter Urbi et Orbi where he called for the reduction of the debt that is “burdening the balance sheet of the poorest nations”. He also said earlier this year that it is not right “to demand or expect payment when the effect would be the imposition of political choices leading to hunger and despair for entire peoples”.

The faith leaders say that because these are not normal times, people must respond accordingly. They conclude the letter by emphasising the need to stand together, stating that urgent debt cancellation will help the most vulnerable.

The letter, which was published in The Guardian newspaper, has the signatures of 77 bishops, rabbis, imams and others, including the director of the Catholic overseas aid charity CAFOD.

This charity has also called on the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and private creditors to cancel debt payments owed in 2020 and 2021. CAFOD has its own ‘Cancel the Debt’ campaign and says that coronavirus is causing devastation right across the world because many of the world’s poorest nations are dealing with both the health emergency and “unimaginable financial hardship” with the global economic slowdown.

“The quickest way to deal with this worrying financial outlook is to keep money in developing countries by cancelling debt payments now,” states the charity.

CAFOD wants people to take a ‘selfie’ (photo of themselves) creatively displaying the words ‘Cancel The Debt’. Photos from all over England and Wales will be collected, and in October they will be part of a message to world leaders that it’s time to ‘Cancel The Debt’.

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