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Parents face emotional toll as they can't afford to give this Christmas

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Cost of living is affecting relationships and mental health

New research released today uncovers the cost-of-living turmoil facing millions of working families in the run-up to Christmas.

To launch its annual Secret Santa campaign to help the country’s most vulnerable children, Action for Children commissioned a unique Savanta ComRes poll of 2,700 UK working parents and their children (nearly 5,500 in total), as well as a nationwide survey of its frontline staff.

The research shows how the financial burden families are facing is taking an emotional toll on relationships, mental health and Christmas celebrations.

With the highest inflation rate in over 40 years, nearly all (98%) working parents the charity surveyed in Scotland said they have worried about money over the past six months, with more than half (52%) of those having worried often

The research also shows one in six (15%) of working parents surveyed in Scotland worry they won’t be able to afford any presents this Christmas. And despite their money worries, more than two in five (41%) said they will put on a brave face and try to act happy, with many children also thinking their mum and dad will be faking their festive cheer (37%).

Action for Children said it is increasingly having to provide emergency relief to families as the cost-of-living crisis deepens.

In a nationwide survey of nearly 200 of its frontline staff during November, it found over two-thirds of those surveyed (69%) are currently supporting a child, young person or family that is experiencing poverty or extreme financial hardship.

Nearly half (45%) reported they were extremely worried about the health and wellbeing of the children, young people and families they support due to their financial situation, and one in ten (10%) had even donated their own household items or clothing to families, such is the urgent need.

Three quarters (75%) of children in poverty are in working families¹ with rates expected to worsen² as the cost-of-living crisis continues.

Some of the issues highlighted by the charity’s frontline workers included:

  • a family having to pawn all their electricals to buy food for their children
  • a child who sleeps on a pile of blankets as its parents can’t afford a bed, and
  • a single parent to several children with additional needs working seven days a week trying to balance support for their children and earning enough money to make ends meet.

One worker asked a young girl if there was anything she would like from Santa this year, to which she replied: ‘I’m not asking for anything and I’m not writing it down on paper (then nodded towards her mum) because she would get too sad.’

Paul Carberry, national director for Scotland at Action for Children, said: “For most of us the festive season is a happy time, yet as our shocking research shows there will be children across Scotland who face a very different Christmas this year.

“Instead of enjoying a safe and happy time, many children will wake up on Christmas morning to no presents, food or warmth. Every day our frontline workers are helping families keep their heads above water, making sure they have the basics like hot meals and proper winter clothes, as well as offering emergency support to keep homes warm and help families pay the bills.

“In yet another year when children and families have been pushed deeper into crisis, supporting them is more important than ever.

“Poverty is not inevitable, it is about political choices. The Scottish government has made a big step in the journey to end child poverty via their Scottish Child Payment, which we supported and called for, but families now require urgent giant leaps from both the UK and Scottish Government to make child poverty consigned to the past.

“Until every family can keep their child warm and well fed, we’ll be there to help them – that’s why we’re asking people to donate to help us make a life-changing difference to vulnerable children this Christmas and beyond. With your help we can be a vital lifeline for even more children across Scotland.”

Case study: Tina Buchan, 43, lives in Inverness and has five children with her partner Moni Buchan, 52. Tina works full-time as a Deputy Store Manager B&M store and her husband is a chef. He has struggled to find work near home and is currently working in London, leaving him apart from his family. Like so many families in Scotland, they are struggling to make ends meet this Christmas.

Tina was already struggling to make ends meet before household bills increased and, despite a recent promotion in work, is still being forced to take drastic measures to feed her children.

“There are some days we won’t put the fire on and just have blankets around us,” said Tina. “I don’t eat much anyway but some days I just have some beans on toast once or twice a day so my kids can have a proper meal.

“I'm pay as you go for my electric and I’m paying around £50 more a month just now. For heating, we have a coal fire and the price of coal has gone up a lot. The coal used to be £10 per bag and now it's gone up to £15 a bag so it’s having a big impact on our budget.

“I’m good at budgeting which is a godsend because if I wasn’t the stress would overwhelm me. I’m on a salary so my pay is the same each month which helps me know what I’m working with. Once I’ve paid my bills and bought some food for the house I’m hardly left with anything.

With five children, Christmas is a particularly difficult period for Tina. Her children are aware of the family’s financial struggles and do not have any expectations for Christmas presents.

“I’m lucky in that my kids don’t expect much and don’t ask for a lot because they know how expensive things can be,” she said. “They’re quite happy to have things like socks, pyjamas, and maybe a couple of wee toys. I speak to them properly about it. The youngest still believes in Santa Clause so he gets a couple of extra things but the others all know roughly what I’ll be giving them.

I’m not one to ask for help, I’m too proud but last Christmas our support worker from Action for Children, Sarah Sproul, brought food hampers and some presents for all the kids. Having five kids is expensive so that made a big difference.”

The pressure of making ends meet is not only affecting Tina but the children as well. Her 16-year-old son Aiden has suffered from anxiety which led the family to initially coming into contact with Action for Children for support around two years ago. Thankfully Aiden has come a long way since then and has “come out of his shell completely to the point that he’s a completely different person now”, according to his mother.

Unfortunately, Tina is now seeing her 10-year-old son Amir’s mental health impacted by the stress of the cost of living crisis and is arranging for him to receive support from Action for Children.

“I told the school two years ago that he was struggling to deal with his anxiety and I was told by the doctors that there’s nothing they could do at the moment because the children’s mental health waiting lists are so long.

“I’ve spoken to Sarah and she’s going to make sure Amir receives the support he needs through Action for Children. She has been amazing for this family and I can’t possibly thank her enough for everything she’s done to help us all. If it wasn’t for Action for Children, I don’t know where we’d be.”