AHEAD of an expected General Election next year, faith leaders from the UK and Africa have come together to urge the UK political parties, through an open letter, to commit to cancel the debts of low-income countries to prevent more communities falling into hunger and poverty.

The intervention comes as new polling by Savanta, commissioned by Christian Aid, shows over half (56 per cent) of the British public agree it is wrong that lower income countries are left without money to pay for health, education or to respond to the climate crisis because of unsustainable debts owed to private lenders. In contrast, just eight per cent disagreed.

The findings also show over half of the British public (54 per cent) also believe the UK Government should introduce legislation to help ensure private lenders play their part in cancelling debt when lower income countries are in crisis.

Kenya is facing one of the worst droughts on record, with 2.8 million people in need of food assistance according to the World Food Programme. Despite the immediate need to respond, the Kenyan government has been spending five times as much on debt repayments than on health.

International development charities Christian Aid and CAFOD and Debt Justice, have together warned over $1.1 trillion in external debt looms over African countries, and 25 of which are trapped in deep debt crises. Ahead of the publication of the UK Government’s first White Paper on development in more than a decade, the coalition is calling for legislation that would enforce the participation of private creditors in debt restructuring.

Christian Aid’s Director of Policy, Public Affairs and Campaigns, Osai Ojigho, said: “From the coronavirus pandemic to the ongoing climate crisis and the knock-on impact of the war in Ukraine, too many families in the lower income countries are struggling to survive.

“Despite this, debt repayments are taking away resources that are vital for coping with the health, social and economic crises resulting from the pandemic. Moreover, lower income countries simply cannot afford to invest in mitigating and adapting to the impacts of the climate crisis such as flooding and hurricanes.

“The UK has a moral obligation to lead the world in compelling commercial lenders to cancel debts that are plunging communities around the world into hunger and poverty. Now is the time for political leaders to lead.”

The Ven JW Kofi deGraft-Johnson,  General Secretary of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA) added: “In a world where the bonds of mutual dependence are evident, we must act as stewards of compassion and justice. It is therefore heartening to see a majority of Britons acknowledging the unbearable burden of debt on low-income countries.

“The plea for debt cancellation is not just about economics. It’s a moral call for solidarity, compassion, and justice too. The UK, as a beacon of hope, must lead in legislating this moral truth and ensuring private lenders bear their share of responsibility in fostering a world free from the chains of debilitating debt, aligning our actions with our shared values of equity and love for our fellow human beings.”

* The full text of the letter and list of signatories can be found here.

* Source: Christian Aid