Church leaders ‘gravely concerned’ about household debt

ALMOST 500 church leaders in Britain have written a joint letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer

ALMOST 500 church leaders in Britain have written a joint letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, to say they are “gravely concerned” about the growing crisis of household debt that millions of families are facing this Christmas, writes Ellen Teague.

“We have heard countless stories from people who have faced awful choices, such as between affording food or falling behind on rent,” says the letter of 3 December. “Many of our churches have been on the front line of providing food and essentials, and hundreds of churches provide debt advice for those at risk.”

They ask the Chancellor to work with Churches and others “to create a comprehensive and just solution to the unique problem of lockdown debt”. They hope evictions can be avoided and that families burdened by debt can be given “a fresh start and a more hopeful future”.

Bishop Terence Drainey, Bishop of Middlesbrough and chair of the Caritas Social Action

Network, is the most prominent signatory from the Catholic Church; Catholic priests include Fr Christophe Brunet of the Chemin Neuf Community in Westminster’s Christ the King parish at Cockfosters, and Fr Peter Mansfield, parish priest in Southwark’s St Aidan’s parish in Coulsdon.

Other signatories include representatives of the Methodist, United Reformed and Scottish Episcopal Churches, along with the Church of England, the Salvation Army, Churches

Together in Britain and Ireland and the Iona Community.

The leaders said: “We know from experience that this situation is exceptional, and therefore requires an exceptional response.”

They report that rental arrears increased dramatically during lockdown and 350,000 households have been contacted by their landlords about eviction. Reference is made to the charity StepChange, which estimates the pandemic has led to 2.87 million people being at high risk of longterm debt.

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12 DECEMBER 2020 | THE TABLET | 29

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