UK faith leaders urge Rishi Sunak to push debt cancellation at G20 summit

12 July 2020

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams and Bishop John Arnold are amongst the 77 faith leaders who have signed the letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams and Bishop John Arnold are amongst the 77 faith leaders who have signed the letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak

Dozens of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith leaders have called on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to work to provide debt relief for developing countries coping with the coronavirus pandemic.

A letter signed by 77 bishops, rabbis, imams and other leaders of UK faith communities urges Chancellor Rishi Sunak to work with other finance ministers to cancel debt for the world’s poorest countries.

The letter – which has been signed by CAFOD chair Bishop John Arnold and former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams – was sent to the Treasury ahead of a meeting of finance ministers from the G20 group of rich nations which took place on 18-19 July 2020.

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Debt threat for countries fighting Covid-19

The faith leaders say in the letter that cancelling debts owed by poor countries “is a critical and rapid means of ensuring that health workers in developing countries have the best chance of helping to defeat the coronavirus” and to help communities to “build back from the economic devastation the pandemic has wreaked”.

The letter notes that the pandemic threatens to push millions more people into extreme poverty, with forecasts of 270 million people facing hunger by the end of 2020 and up to 340 million threatened with a loss of work.

The letter cites Pope Francis’s appeal for debt to be reduced to avoid “burdening the balance sheet of the poorest nations” and explains the basis for debt cancellations and jubilees in scripture.

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The full letter and list of signatories is below.

Faith leaders’ letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak

Dear Chancellor,

We are leaders from different faith communities around the United Kingdom. We are writing to urge you to support our most vulnerable sisters and brothers worldwide as they seek to survive and rebuild from the coronavirus pandemic.

We welcome the efforts you made at the G20 finance ministers’ meeting in April to reach an agreement for the temporary suspension of debts owed to other governments by those of the world’s poorest 77 countries.

We now ask you to work with your fellow finance ministers at this month’s G20 meeting to cancel, rather than merely suspend bilateral debt payments, as well as to urge the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and private creditors to cancel debt payments owed in 2020 and 2021 by these countries. 

This is a critical and rapid means of ensuring that health workers in developing countries have the best chance of helping to defeat the coronavirus and that countries have the resources at hand to build back from the economic devastation the pandemic has wreaked – including by assisting communities already being hit by the effects of the climate crisis.

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 340 million 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. 

In his Easter Urbi et Orbi message of hope, Pope Francis called for the reduction of the debt that is "burdening the balance sheet of the poorest nations" and 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.”   

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 unnecessarily cause. 

We urge you to show the ambition and leadership needed to meet this challenge.

Signed by

Rt Rev and Rt Hon Dr Rowan Williams - Former Archbishop of Canterbury 

Most Rev John D E Davies - Archbishop of Wales; Bishop of Swansea and Brecon

Most Rev Mark Strange - Primus, on behalf of the College of Bishops, Scottish Episcopal Church

Rt Rev John Arnold - Bishop of Salford; lead bishop on environmental affairs for the Catholic Church in England and Wales 

Rt Rev Declan Lang - Bishop of Clifton; Chair of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales Department for International Affairs

Rt Rev Joseph Toal - Bishop of Motherwell; President of SCIAF

Rt Rev William Nolan - Bishop of Galloway

Rt Rev Christopher Chessun - Bishop of Southwark

Rt Rev Tim Dakin - Bishop of Winchester

Rt Rev John Inge - Bishop of Worcester

Rt Rev Nick Baines - Bishop of Leeds

Rt Rev Christopher Cocksworth - Bishop of Coventry

Rt Rev Ric Thorpe - Bishop of Islington

Rt Rev Joanna Penberthy - Bishop of St David’s

Rt Rev James Langstaff - Lord Bishop of Rochester and Bishop to HM Prisons

Rt Rev Graham Usher - Bishop of Norwich

Rev Hugh Nelson - Bishop-designate of St Germans

Very Rev Susan Brown - Convenor, Faith Impact Forum, Church of Scotland

Rev Richard Teal - President, Methodist Conference

Carolyn Lawrence - Vice-President, Methodist Conference

Rev Mark Slaney - District Chair, Methodist Church (Scotland)

Rev John Fulton - Moderator, General Assembly of the United Free Church of Scotland

Rev Dr David Pickering - Moderator, United Reformed Church (Scotland)

Rev Clare Downing - Moderator, General Assembly of the United Reformed Church

Mr Peter Pay - Moderator, General Assembly of the United Reformed Church

Rev Simon Walkling - Moderator, United Reformed Church National Synod of Wales

Lynn Green - General Secretary, Baptist Union

Rev Martin Hodson - General Director, Baptist Union of Scotland

Frances J. Bloomfield - Convenor, Scottish Baptists

Dr Marcus Chilaka - Assistant Provincial Pastor and National Ecumenical Lead, The Redeemed Christian Church of God

Damian Howard, SJ - Provincial, Jesuits in Britain

Elizabeth Allen - Clerk, General Meeting for Scotland

Rev Gavin Calver - CEO, Evangelical Alliance

Rev Canon Yemi Adedeji - Director, ‘One People Commission’ at Evangelical Alliance

Rev Dr Stephen Wigley - Chair, Wales Synod of the Methodist Church in Wales

Rev Dr Jennifer A Hurd - District Chair, Cymru Synod of the Methodist Church

Rev Celia Apeagyei-Collins - President, Rehoboth Foundation International

Rev Christopher Gillham - Secretary, Congregation Federation in Wales

Rev May-Kane Logan - Congregational Federation in Scotland

Lt Col Carol Bailey - Secretary for Scotland, Salvation Army

Pastor Chris Gbenle - Provincial Pastor, Province of Scotland, Redeemed Christian Church of God

Dyfrig Rees - General Secretary, Union of Welsh Independents

Rev Nicky Gumbel - Vicar, Holy Trinity Brompton

Professor Robert Beckford - Professor of Theology, The Queen’s Ecumenical Foundation

Rev Dr Sam Wells - Vicar, St Martin-in-the-Fields

Rev Paul Harcourt - National Leader, New Wine

Rev Kate Wharton - Assistant National Leader, New Wine

Rev Prebendary Mark Melluish - Assistant National Leader, New Wine

Dr Julie Morgan - Executive Director, New Wine

Dr Krish Kandiah - Social Entrepreneur, Theologian and Founder of Home for Good

Chris Gillham - Secretary, Congregational Federation in Wales 

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein – Chair, Conference of Liberal Rabbis and Cantors; Senior Rabbi, Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue

Rabbi Dr Deborah Kahn-Harris - Principal, Leo Baeck College 

Rabbi Dr Charles Middleburgh - Dean, Leo Baeck College

Rabbi Naomi Goldman - Kol Chai Synagogue, Hatch End Reform Jewish Community 

Rabbi Dr Barbara Borts - Honorary Research Associate, Department of Anthropology, Durham University; Honorary Research Fellow, Leo Baeck College

Rabbi Dr Jackie Tabick - Convenor, Reform Beit Din; Rabbi, West Central Liberal Synagogue 

Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra - Imam; Chair, Virtue Ethics Foundation

Imam Sayed Razawi FRSA - Chief Imam, Scottish Ahlul Bayt Society

Sheikh Suliman - Trustee, Edmonton Islamic Centre

Molana Mujahid Ali - Imam, Hafs Academy, London

Sheikh Abdulqadir - Imam Al-Muntada, West London Islamic Cultural Centre

Sheikh Kazi Luthfur Rahma - Imam & Khateeb, London Central Mosque, Regent’s Park

Mohammed Saeed - Trustee, Green Lane Mosque, Birmingham

Imam Abid Salik - Imam of York Mosque & Islamic Centre

Dr Ravi - Trustee of Liverpool Mosque & Institute

Abdul Kareem Gheewala - Chair, Federation of Muslim Organisations, Leicester

Imam Emran Ahmed - Al Hikmah (Aberdeen)

Imam Ibrahim - Aberdeen Muslim and Islamic Centre

Moulana Sohail Ashfaque - Blackhall Mosque, Edinburgh

Moulana Abu Bakr - Cumbernauld Mosque

Amanda Khozi Mukwashi - CEO, Christian Aid

Nigel Harris - CEO, Tearfund

Christine Allen - Director, CAFOD

Alistair Dutton - Director, SCIAF

Tufail Hussain - Director, Islamic Relief

Shanon Shah - Interim Coordinator, Faith for the Climate Network

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