The Revd Clare Downing, Moderator of the United Reformed Church General Assembly, reflects on the anniversary of the first lockdown, the debt poorer families have incurred because of Covid-19, and the campaign the Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT) started to highlight this issue.
At the start of the first lockdown. JPIT, along with other partners, took the opportunity that day, to challenge us to pray and take action to support those who are affected by debt because of the Covid restrictions. As Moderator of General Assembly, I was privileged to take part in an online prayer, alongside other church leaders, as well as members of Parliament from different political parties.
We prayed and reflected on the words in Isaiah which Jesus took as his own manifesto when he read them in the synagogue in Nazareth; good news for the poor, release from captivity, freedom from oppression. Isaiah was speaking to a people in exile and Jesus to people living in an occupied territory. But the words need to be heard in our context of pandemic and poverty.
On a positive note, our government has offered support in various ways, which has been a lifeline to many – though there has been questionable spending too. But there are people who are falling through the gaps. Low pay, zero hours contracts, disability – all were having negative effects well before the pandemic. Debt has become a major problem for those whose budgets already had no leeway.
We all need to hear good news – but especially the poor. We may have all felt captive over the last 12 months but, for many of us, the effects of the pandemic while limiting, are limited. For others, captivity is not just to a disease but to debt.
The JPIT’s ‘Reset the Debt’ campaign is working to release people from the captivity to debt which has been accrued during the pandemic. It’s not the whole answer. We need long-term solutions to inequality – but this would be a start.
While the anniversary of the start of lockdown was a day of focus, I would encourage you to get involved in this campaign. Explore it for yourself here. God’s promises given through Isaiah, and embraced by Jesus, are still powerful today. We believe in a God who cares for creation, for humanity, for those who are oppressed and captive. We believe in Good News!