UK faith leaders urge Rishi Sunak to push debt cancellation at G20 summit
12 July 2020
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.
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.
The full letter and list of signatories is below.
Faith leaders’ letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak
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.
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