Sparkling lights twinkling into a velvet night sky…
It’s the most magical time of the year…
Yet for many people, Christmas is a time of stress, increased anxiety, and danger.
This decade so far has just been the gift that keeps on giving. Now we are in the throes of a much-documented cost-of-living crisis. Increased financial strain through hikes in energy and food poverty, with alcohol on tap whilst all being home, makes for a boiling pot of stress just waiting to spill over.
In 2022, the average person in the UK is expected to spend £430 per person on gifts this Christmas. This is a drop of 22% compared to the previous Christmas when the average spend was £548 per person. We are spending less than pre-pandemic – in 2019, the average spend per person was £513.
So, according to the experts, we are all tightening our belts this year amid the financial crunch we are currently in. It’s not just the rising costs of energy, fuel, and food that are compounding the problem. Wages aren’t matching the rapid rise of inflation. Delays, reductions, and shortfalls of benefits are plunging some families further into destitution.
Our national spend is also predicted to be 21% less – just £21.1 billion. The biggest spenders are predicted to be in Scotland, with the East Midlands spending the least.
I mentioned in one of my last blogs that domestic abuse rises during big sporting tournaments and with it, some staggering figures demonstrated these increases.
The same can be said of the festive period. Christmas 2020 saw the callouts to domestic abuse reports rise by almost 66%. Now, remember, that was during the pandemic. We had financial strains and furlough pressures on families. It’s a similar scene this year.
Food banks are being relied upon more and more. Between 2016 and 2021, the demand for emergency food parcels has risen by 81%. People are skipping meals to be able to power the internet so that children can do their homework on the internet. Families are struggling to stay warm, fed, and dry. These are families here in the UK – not another country where such scenes are sadly commonplace and we are used to seeing on the news. It’s here, and that can feel really scary and disconcerting.
One in 6 women believe that they’re more likely to suffer emotional and physical abuse in the home during the festive period.
Children are very excited during this period, but the two-week school shutdown is one of the most unsafe times of year for children when there is domestic abuse in the home. More so than at any other school holiday time! There are fewer opportunities for children to seek out support from teachers and trained staff. Child harm cases rose by 20% in the Winter period of 2020 compared to the year before, and child deaths rose by 19%.
There is also the pressure of separation abuse – abuse that doesn’t end just because you have left the abuser. The ex-partner will be expecting to spend time with the children and the idea of having to deal with that can be crippling. The non-custodial parent might be called upon to provide care for the children when the custodial parent has to work.
Parents are under increased pressure to produce the huge piles of presents that are lauded on social media, believing their parenting skills to be lacking if they can’t replicate what their neighbours or friends are able to do for their children.
We are all relentlessly battered by cleverly targeted marketing and advertising by companies to try and entice us to part with our hard-earned money. Coveted presents are getting smaller and yet the price tags get more expensive.
Children who are older find the present pile is significantly smaller yet we’ve spent much more. The mind boggles.
And then there are those family members who always insist on buying you a gift and you feel an overwhelming obligation to return the favour. It’s rude and you might be considered ungrateful otherwise.
And what of those who have children with additional needs? For those whose children do go to school, their families lose those precious few hours of peace during the day. For all SEND families, the routine changes and not everyone copes well with this and for a large number this can be incredibly triggering and traumatic. Then there is the present opening, where every family member wants to see the rapturous expression of a child that is completely overwhelmed and would prefer to sit in the corner with their device just for a little break from all the people and the massive sensory overloads.
Still looking forward to Christmas? I’ve painted a fairly bleak picture, haven’t I? But there are signs that there are changes that people are making – largely driven by finances, but also because many are re-thinking how they want to live in general. Hopefully this can begin to lift at least some of the pressure for lots of us.
The latest figures show us that everyone is spending much less this year due to the cost-of-living crisis.
So, you’re not alone in choosing not to spend as much on people this year. If you can, shopping from a local or small business also means that the money you do spend is helping a family similar to yours.
More and more people are foregoing Christmas gifts this year, reducing the ‘buy back’ pressure and unnecessary spending on someone. In my own family some of us have mutually decided to only give gifts to the children. Agreeing on a lower amount or even meeting up for an experience instead of a gift that will sit in the drawer all year can be a great way to enjoy the season. A few of my friends and I decided to choose a show we wnat to go to see and have made that a joint Birthday and Christmas event for all of us. One theatre ticket is far less than Birthday and Christmas presents for several people – and it means a fun night out and helping the arts industry – keeping actors, production assistants, and theatres going too!
If you find that you are struggling this year, there are charities and local organisations out there that can help. I’m not ashamed to say that I get one of the food boxes that my church gives to anyone in need in our local community every school holiday – and we’ve seen an increase in the need for those over the last few months. The one good thing is that getting help is losing the stigma that many of us used to feel – so please do reach out to your local charities if you need support.
The horrific issues around domestic abuse and violence are not easily solved, but if you or someone you know is going through any kind of abuse, please do get in touch with support organisations or the police.
And finally, do remember that we don’t remember every gift we were ever given, but we do remember those special moments with the people we love – and we can create some incredible memories without much money or material goods! So don’t feel obliged or under pressure to produce expensive gifts at the cost of your physical or mental health or your financial stability!