One in six parents would cancel Christmas if they could, heartbreaking new research shows, as families struggle to make ends meet.
And more than half of children fear they face a difficult festive season – with the pandemic leaving them anxious, scared, lonely and suffering from nightmares.
Research by charity Action for Children reveals the high mental health toll the past year has had on families.
Among those struggling to make ends meet are Caroline Rose and Neil Tugby, from Sandwell near Birmingham, who were both made redundant on the same day shortly after the first lockdown started.
Caroline, who was on maternity leave following the premature birth of daughter Heidi, said: “I’m dreading Christmas as I’m struggling with my mental health, and Neil’s hair and beard is falling out from all the stress too.
“I’ve found a part-time job but it’s not enough and Neil found a temp job but because we’re now shielding for another operation for Heidi, they had to let him go after only a few weeks.
“I think we have £12.12 in the bank right now. How am I going to pay our rent? We’re probably going to lose our house as our savings have run out.”
Among the findings of the Action for Children study are:
- One in six (17%) parents would cancel Christmas this year if they could
- More than half UK children (57%) think their parents will be worried about making it a happy time for their family
- Nearly half (46%) of parents on Universal Credit surveyed are facing their first ever Christmas on the benefit
- Of these mums and dad, a massive 41% wish they could cancel Christmas, while more than half (55%) reported plans to delay paying household bills, borrow money or sell belongings to pay for Christmas celebrations
- Half of children (49%) reporting anxiety
- More than a third (38%) were scared of getting ill or dying
- A third (33%) were feeling lonely
- A quarter of children (26%) felt angry
- One in five (22%) parents reported them having mood swings or panic attacks
- More than one in eight (13%) children were suffering nightmares
The charity has launched a Christmas Secret Santa campaign to help the country’s most vulnerable children.
Single dad Mike Trower, 33, from Paignton in Devon planned to open a new business which had to be put on hold when the Coronavirus crisis began.
During lockdown he started to notice his four-year-old son Cody’s behaviour change dramatically.
He said: “He now has real social anxiety. He regularly tells me he’s sad and angry.
“He’ll scream out the car window and cry and have a panic attack – it’s because he’s spent so much time with me this year and now he struggles to be on his own.
“His bed is just across the hall through the lounge – I now have to leave the lounge and hall lights on as he says my room is too far away.
“If I shut the car door and walk around to fill up on petrol, he’ll undo his belt and stand up and say ‘what are you doing?’ I used to be able to fill up and go into the petrol station and pay. He didn’t used to be like this.”
Deputy chief executive Carol Iddon, said: “Christmas should be the most exciting time of the year but instead children and young people are desperately struggling to get through this crisis, with parents wishing away the pressure of the festive season.
“Every day our frontline workers are helping parents keep their heads above water as some face the prospect of eviction or selling belongings to cover the cost of Christmas.
Prior to the coronavirus crisis, the Daily Mirror was calling on Boris Johnson to hike child benefit by £5 a week to end the scourge of child poverty.
Without action the number of kids in poverty in the UK was set to rise from 4.1million to 5.2million in the next two years.
Our Give Me Five campaign wanted an immediate increase in child benefit – a move that would lift 200,000 children out of destitution. Our campaign was backed by charities, politicians and union leaders.
However, as the global pandemic sparks a fresh recession – which the International Monetary Fund warns could be the worst since the Great Depression in the 1930 – charities say more needs to be done.
Action for Children is now calling on the Government to increase child benefit further, by £10, to recognise the ever-worsening situation plunging children in poverty.
Meanwhile the Joseph Rowntree Foundation is calling for “a just emergency intervention, targeted to mitigate the immediate strain on low-income families.”
The charity says an increase of at least £20 per child per week to the child element of Universal Credit and Child Tax Credits “would go a long way to covering the increased costs posed by the current and potential subsequent lockdowns.”
“While vulnerable children who should be enjoying a safe and happy childhood are suffering nightmares, panic attacks, or being scared of issues like death and illness.
“In a year when children and families have been pushed deeper into crisis, supporting them is more important than ever.”
Be a Secret Santa for a vulnerable child this Christmas text CHILD to 70607 or visit iamsanta.org.uk