During the Coronavirus lockdown, the Joint Public Issues Team and Church Action on Poverty held a programme of listening exercises called the Gleanings Project. As the organisations sought to listen and learn from those living in poverty, the issue of debt became a recurring theme. They then went away and looked into it, and their subsequent report has some disturbing findings.
Since the Covid crisis began, six million households have fallen into debt, falling behind on bills or rent payments. 19% have had to borrow money just to pay for food or other essentials. Those on the lowest incomes are most affected.
In response to these findings, CAP and a coalition of church partners have launched the campaign Reset The Debt. They propose a ‘Jubilee Fund’ that would pay off unavoidable debt taken on by households struggling during lockdown.
As many have noted before, the effects of the lockdown have not been equally shared. Some have been able to continue working, or have been put on furlough with full pay. If times get tight, some have savings or assets that will see them through. Others have had a much more uncertain experience. They may have lost their jobs, or they are self-employed in jobs that have become impossible due to pandemic restrictions. Those most likely to be left with no support at all are those on zero-hour contracts, or freelancers in the ‘gig economy’. Black and minority ethnic communities are disproportionately affected, along with those with caring responsibilities.
With no income, many have been forced to borrow, and so these debts accrued during the pandemic could not be avoided. And yet, the banks will expect full payment, with interest – “The rich rule over the poor” as Proverbs puts it, “and the borrower is slave to the lender.”
Many households, already with low incomes and struggling to get by, will be dogged by these new debt obligations for years to come – unless they are written off by a Jubilee Fund.
You can find out more about the campaign here, and send a letter to your MP in support.