Bleak Christmas for struggling UK families amid cost-of-living crisis

A cyclist makes their way through fog on a frosty morning at Primrose Hill, in north London, on Dec 11, 2022. (JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

LONDON – Tears rolled down the cheeks of Christine Haycock, 42, as her eldest daughter Emily decided to save pocket money to buy a new jumper for the mother of three.

"That really got to me, a nine-year-old child understanding the plight we are in," Haycock told Xinhua in an interview at her home in an industrial town on the outskirts of Liverpool in northwestern England.

Haycock is struggling to make ends meet as Christmas comes. A few weeks ago, Haycock went to a food bank for the first time to collect some essential provisions to feed her family.

Driven mainly by soaring energy prices, inflation in the UK has been running high this whole year in 2022, reaching successive new records

"I was upset to think I'd got to the point when I needed a food bank, thinking this is what I have to do to get us through Christmas," she said.

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Amid the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, Haycock was not alone. Between April and September, more than 320,000 people in the United Kingdom (UK) walked into the food banks of Trussell Trust, a leading charity fighting against hunger, for the first time, and 1.3 million emergency food parcels were provided across the country.

Haycock used old blankets against doors and windows to keep the cold draughts from coming in. "Things have never been as bad as this, and the cold weather is not helping. I'm looking forward to Christmas for the sake of the kids, but not so much for myself," she said.

Driven mainly by soaring energy prices, inflation in the UK has been running high this whole year in 2022, reaching successive new records. In October, households paid 88.9 percent more on average for electricity, gas and other fuels than a year ago, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said. Domestic gas prices in October, in particular, were more than double that a year earlier.

"I am checking my bank balance every day, to make sure I don't go over," Haycock said, adding "My monthly energy bill had doubled from 120 pounds ($145) a month to 222 pounds, which has made life this year more of a struggle."

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Rising food prices also made a large contribution to inflation. Food and non-alcoholic beverage prices rose by 16.5 percent in the 12 months to November, and the annual inflation rate for this category has risen for 16 consecutive months, according to the ONS.

Some families across the UK in the current cold Christmas have to juggle household incomes between staying warm or buying food, said Keith Baker, a research fellow in fuel poverty and energy policy at Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland.

"We've now got to the point where charities are trying to get out warm clothing to people," said Baker, who has worked with groups seeking to help people faced with the duel problems of a cost-of-living crisis and high energy bills.

The cost-of-living crisis has made British consumers more budget-conscious on Christmas gifts. An ONS survey showed about 60 percent of adults were planning on cutting back on their Christmas spending compared with last year.

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People are buying fewer and less expensive presents, less expensive food and drink, and eating out less this Christmas, said the ONS.

"It's all down to money. I get upset that I just can't get all the things the kids are hoping for on Christmas day," said Haycock who relies on universal credit, the government scheme that helps poor families.

"For 2023, I'd just like enough money to get by. It doesn't seem a lot to wish for," Haycock said. 

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