UK and US churches urge governments to cancel debt of poorest households due to virus

Churches on both sides of the Anglo-American divide have called for debt relief for those who have fallen into difficulties after months of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The call for debt relief came in the United Kingdom where a group of churches urged the government to cancel the debt of people who have fallen into hardship after months of coronavirus restrictions.

“Since the beginning of lockdown, an estimated six million people in the UK have fallen behind on one or more household bills, with poorest households hit the hardest,” said the Reset the Debt campaign.

Those who are less fortunate are experiencing similar problems of meeting daily needs due to the effects of the virus that had nearly 36 million confirmed cases worldwide according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center in Baltimore.

The United States with more than 7.5 million cases and  and more than 211,000 confirmed deaths has a higher COVID-19 toll than any country with its President Donald Trump also testing positive to the disease.

The United Kingdom has nearly 547,000 cases with 42,605 deaths. The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tested positive in early April and spent some time in an Intensive Care Unit at a top London hospital.

The relief campaign is the joint initiative of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Church Action on Poverty, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church, Christian Today reported.


“We’re calling on the government to reset debt,” said the campaign.

The churches note that those in the six million have in the UK have fallen behind on rent, council tax and other household bills due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, and that one in five people have borrowed to buy essentials like food.

The coalition says that low income families, younger workers, members of BAME (black minority ethnic) communities, and carers have been especially hard hit by job losses and the economic climate.

Rev. Richard Teal, President of the Methodist Conference, said the cancellation of unavoidable debt could “bring stability” and offer a “more hopeful future” for the millions of people in the UK struggling to cover the cost of basic necessities.

He said that those on low incomes “cannot be forgotten as we move into what will be a challenging winter ahead”.

“This call comes out of what churches have seen in communities throughout the country,” he said.

“We know that during lockdown people have focused on keeping themselves and their families safe and fed – and for many that meant bills or even some rent had to go unpaid.”

He said such families are now facing a crisis and this is not right.

“The fact that COVID debt has disproportionately affected low income families demands a compassionate and just response.”

The campaign is inspired by the Old Testament concept of Jubilee and the forgiveness of debts.

Back on Sept. 8 a leader with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops urged the nation’s Congress and the White House to reach a deal on the next COVID-19 relief package that meets the urgent needs of the nation, Catholic News Service reported.

“Earlier this year, the leaders of our government reached a bipartisan deal that provided significant relief to those suffering from the health and economic crises that we continue to experience.


“Many of the good relief measures in that previous package are running out,” said Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

In a statement, the archbishop stressed that “families and individuals are having trouble affording food, housing and health care, and hunger-related crises grow internationally.”

He also pointed out that many private schools must choose between reopening and permanent closure and require additional assistance to safely reopen.

“Hospitals are bracing for a spike of cases in the fall and continue to experience fewer preventative and elective health visits,” he said, while coronavirus cases are “spiking in detention centers, prisons and jails.”

He noted that many businesses and charities “are suffering dire hardship again” and that states, cities and towns “face shortfalls providing essential services.”

“Today, I ask our leaders in Washington to once again set aside their differences in order to reach an agreement that prioritizes the poor and vulnerable,” he stressed.

The archbishop said that he and other Catholic bishops have written to congressional leaders multiple times with “specific recommendations on how to meet the needs of this moment.”

“It is imperative to act soon. May God grant all those participating in negotiations a heart that eagerly responds to the cry of the poor,” he said.

On Sept. 8, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, of the Republican Party, said the Senate would vote on a scaled-back Republican coronavirus relief package within days, but he said it was not likely to pass while the opposition in the upper chamber, the Democrats are seeking more aid.

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