Hundreds of Church leaders have written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak to say they are ‘gravely concerned’ at the growing number of people facing household debt as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, including the millions of families set to face a ‘frightening’ Christmas.
In the joint letter, around 500 leaders from across the UK reveal they have witnessed the hardship experienced by low income families during the pandemic, including the countless stories they have heard from people who have faced awful choices, such as between affording food or falling behind on rent.
‘Many of our churches have been on the frontline of providing food and essentials,’ they say. ‘Hundreds of churches provide debt advice to those at risk. We know from experience that this situation is exceptional, and therefore requires an exceptional response.’
In the letter, the leaders note that their experiences on the ground are increasingly borne out by the statistical evidence.
‘The pandemic has hit the lowest income families hardest, further lowering incomes and increasing the price of essential outgoings,’ they state.
They highlight the Resolution Foundation’s recent findings that 54 per cent of the lowest income families have needed to borrow to pay for necessities during the pandemic and argue that by August, 6 million people had fallen behind on at least one household bill, with evidence suggesting that the later lockdowns will have amplified this problem.
‘Rental arrears increased dramatically during lockdown and 350,000 households have been contacted by their landlords about eviction. Tragically, it is families with children who are worst affected. For many this will be a frightening Christmas period,’ they warn.
The Bishop of Middlesbrough, Terence Drainey, is the most prominent representative of the Catholic Church to sign the letter, which other Catholic signatories including Fr Christophe Brunet, parish priest of Christ the King in Cockfosters, London; Fr Allan Jones, CRIC, assistant priest at Our Lady of Charity & St Augustine’s in Daventry; Canon Shaun Lennard, parish priest of Our Lady & St Vincent’s in Potters Bar; and Fr Mehall Lowry, parish priest of St Monica’s in Palmers Green, London.
Other signatories include representatives from the Church of England; Church of Scotland; Baptist; Methodist; United Reformed; and Scottish Episcopal Churches.
It also includes representatives from the Salvation Army; Christians Against Poverty; Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and the Iona Community.
The charity Stepchange estimates that 2.87 million people are at a high risk of long-term debt as a result of the pandemic, with the Church leaders warning that this will cause significant, long-term mental health concerns for many people, including children, and economic consequences arising from families being unable to spend, to move and to take up employment.
‘As the economy restarts, many families will be prevented from participating in or benefiting from new opportunities as they are held back by lockdown debt. Creditors, such as private landlords, will also be inhibited by holding large debts which will be difficult or impossible to collect,’they say.
‘This crisis in household debt is continuing to grow, and the current inadequate systems for addressing it will lead to many families facing unnecessary distress and hardship.
‘We are asking that you work with communities, churches, charities and creditors to create a comprehensive and just solution to the unique problem of lockdown debt. Our ambition must go beyond delay or avoidance of eviction. This Christmas is a time to give families burdened by debt a fresh start and a more hopeful future.’
Picture: Chancellor Rishi Sunak.