2023: Building solidarity and power with people on the frontlines of the debt crisis 

As 2023 draws to a close, I want to say a big thank you for your support and to celebrate five highlights of what we have achieved together this year in our campaigns against unjust debt. 

  1. You stood with Zambian campaigners and demanded a new law to cancel the debt 

Financial giants like BlackRock, that hold millions of dollars in Zambian debt, continue to keep the country in a choke hold – so alongside Zambian campaigners, we amped up the campaign this year by calling for a new law to stop these banks acting like cowboys.  

In the summer, a debt relief agreement was reached for some of what Zambia owes to other governments , but a similar deal with banks and hedge funds failed because it didn’t provide enough debt relief and has gone back into negotiations.  

But we have a unique opportunity to win change and get the debt cancelled. Many of Zambia’s loans were given under English law, so the UK has a unique opportunity to play a part in ending the debt crisis by introducing a new law that could compel lenders to cancel debts. Thousands of you added your name to an open letter from Zambian activist Precious Kalombwana calling for the law to be introduced.  

If this law was brought in it could have a huge impact, not just for Zambia but for many of the 54 countries in a debt crisis. Your actions helped to push this issue up the political agenda and next year, with a general election likely, it’s even more important we carry on campaigning.  

2. You challenged the cost of living crisis in the UK by campaigning to #EndEnergyDebt 

In July, we exposed the true scale of the household debt crisis in the UK. Our research was covered in the Guardian and found that almost 13 million adults are struggling to pay bills and the number of families in debt has increased by 60% since 2017. With energy bills going through the roof your campaigning made a real difference – we forced Ofgem to not raise bills to cover ‘bad debt’.  

Our campaign to #EndEnergyDebt didn’t stop there, 6.4 million of us are in energy debt here in the UK. But together we’ve been raising the alarm. Together with our friends at 38 Degrees and the Warm This Winter campaign we handed in a signed petition from over 100,000 of us, calling on the government #EndEnergyDebt. Read more about this in our latest blog.

3. You helped us put on our first ever art exhibition 

This year we held our first ever exhibition on the legacy of colonialism and its links to today’s lower income country debt crisis.  

Debt can too often be seen as a neutral technical issue, with its roots in colonial injustice and the colonial economy erased. We were excited to work with artists, who are connected to the countries in a debt crisis, to bring the story of debt and colonial exploitation to life. For centuries, powerful governments, institutions and corporations have weaponised debt to control and plunder the resources of countries in the global South. Rich creditors have used debt crises to force devastating austerity on global South governments, and enforce an economic system rooted in the history of colonialism.   

The exhibition was a key part of our political education work and included original visual and performance work from twelve artists on the impact of debt, including through the artists’ own lived experience of colonial and neo-colonial oppression and debt.  

“I have found a way in art to convey a message that would only be transferred from books”

Katherine Hasegawa, a Venezuelan ARTivist based in Cambridge, UK

Described as punchy, our exhibition ran from 8-16th November.  

4. You made your voices heard to ‘Cancel the Debt for Climate Justice’ 

This year we exposed how the debt crisis is forcing countries to expand fossil fuel extraction to earn foreign exchange to repay their debts. However these projects often fail and countries end up with even more debt. Your campaigning helped show that the climate and debt crises are two sides of the same coin, literally adding fuel to each other’s fire. Fifty-four countries are already in debt crisis, severely hampering their ability to respond to the mounting impacts and costs of climate disasters. At the same time countries are being forced into more debt to pay for the damage and destruction from climate-driven disasters.  

Lower income countries are the least responsible for climate breakdown and yet these countries are experiencing its harshest and most destructive effects – from heatwaves to hurricanes, floods, droughts and mudslides. Places like the Caribbean are on the front line, which is why this year we have been amplifying the voices in the region so that their stories can be heard. 

You helped us take that message loud and clear to COP28 in Dubai. Thousands of you signed petitions demanding debt cancellation for climate justice and hundreds sent in messages that we projected on parliament

5. Campaigning locally to get debts cancelled 

Our local Together Against Debt groups, led by people who understand the stress of being in debt have taken on their local councils and won! In Manchester the group has forced the city council to introduce a range of measures to reduce bailiff use. Many councils still use bailiffs to collect council tax and a visit from a bailiff is one of the most stressful parts of dealing with debt. It’s outdated, wrong and just doesn’t work. The group is now trying to force the council to end the use of bailiffs altogether. . Alongside trade union groups, the group in Glasgow ran a great campaign to cancel £300,000 of school meal debt, and won! It’s reported that 24 per cent of Glasgow residents live in moderate to severe food poverty, so it was critical to ensure children are fed in the most important years of their lives. 

With a likely election around the corner, we’ve started building our national ‘Together Against Debt- Manifesto’, you can have your say here

Thank you so much for your involvement in all our campaigns this year, whether it was liking a social media post, sharing a video, turning up to an event, writing to your MP or supporting us with your donations. We value every action you take and every donation you give to us – everything you do helps to build our collective power in solidarity with affected communities and helps get us  a step closer to winning debt justice both at home and globally.  

We look forward to campaigning with you in 2024.  

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