Jubilee Debt Campaign to become Debt Justice

John Nightingale, Chair of Jubilee Debt Campaign Birmingham shares his reflections ahead of the name change from Jubilee Debt Campaign to Debt Justice on May 16th. 

As a visiting preacher I often ask congregations whether they remember the Human Chain of May 16th 1998, when seventy thousand people held hands around the centre of Birmingham to highlight the poverty of many countries and persuade the leaders of the G8, World Bank and IMF to remit their debts. I am delighted that usually there are some in the congregation who do.

The deadline then chosen for debt cancellation was the year 2000 (hence the name Jubilee 2000) because that year marked the anniversary of Jesus who in his sermon at Nazareth had pronounced the “year of the Jubilee” when according to the Hebrew Scriptures debts would be cancelled.

This campaign had an effect, and in the next few years some 130 billions dollars of debt were cancelled. That sum is only admittedly a six hundredth of the current income of the world in a single year, but none the less it made a tremendous difference to the poorest countries. Over the next few years they were able to expand their health and education services so that many more children went to school and many fewer mothers and children died in childbirth. However, regrettably, debt has become a problem again, particularly because of climate change which has damaged poorest countries the most. At the same time the financial crisis and covid have led to increased debt among the poorest people in the UK. The work of Jubilee Debt Campaign is needed more than ever.

However, as the years have passed, the name Jubilee has become a problem. Whose Jubilee? The Queen’s? And what does it mean? In my experience, by the time I have explained the word, I have lost my audience. Hence the proposed rebranding of Jubilee Debt Campaign as “Debt Justice” and the relaunch which takes place by zoom at 6.30pm on Monday May 16th. The relaunch is free to attend and tickets can be booked HERE.

But what is the ultimate aim? From the start it has been the cancellation of unjust and unpayable debts and a change to the system which gives rise to them. Some loans are indeed needed (many people have benefited from mortgages for example) but the terms need to be fair, and, if there are unexpected disasters, the resulting losses need to be shared between borrowers and lenders, something the UK bankruptcy system at least attempts; there is yet to be such a system internationally.

Above all, there is a bigger issue, as Pope Francis has reminded us; environmental debt. The rich countries have profited from burning the fossil fuels, resulting in the global warming which is now bringing disaster on the poorest. Morally we, the rich nations, are indebted to them.

So please share in the celebrations of the relaunch and join the Debt Justice Campaign, both nationally and in Birmingham.

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