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Millions of parents say they’d cancel Christmas if they could, most children fear an unhappy family time

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  • As the UK heads for a Covid-hit Christmas, new Action for Children research with parents and kids reveals heavy mental health toll on families – especially those struggling with money
  • Poll of parents finds one in six would cancel Christmas if they could, rising even higher for those on Universal Credit for the first time this year
  • Children’s poll finds over half fear a difficult family Christmas, saying their parents will be worried about making it a happy time. The pandemic is also leaving them anxious, scared of illness and death, lonely, angry and suffering nightmares
  • In-depth investigation and video diaries with vulnerable families finds children witnessing their parents’ struggles with money, mental health, relationships and health fears
  • One teenager with a heart condition and asthma said: “…not being able to see my family is the worst. Now nan is isolating I can’t see her. I feel upset that I’ve missed a lot of birthdays this year. Christmas is coming up and even though we might be allowed to mix, I don’t think I’ll be able to see any of them because the risk is too high.”
  • One mum said: “My fiancé’s hair is falling out from all the stress… We’re probably going to lose our house as our savings have run out. I’m now considering selling my engagement ring.”

Shocking new research reveals the stress and misery of millions of families in the run up to Christmas, with parents wishing the day away and children worried. As the country faces Covid-hit celebrations, one in six (17%) parents would cancel Christmas this year if they could and over half UK children (57%) think their parents will be worried about making it a happy time for their family, according to new polling released today (Monday 30 November) by Action for Children.

Action for Children worked with YouGov on a survey of over 1,000 UK parents and 1,000 children (aged 6 to 15) which lays bare the heavy financial toll felt by a new wave of parents who have never needed help but are now struggling. 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.

The polling also shines a light on the mental health toll the crisis has taken on children. It showed:

  • 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 felt (26%) angry
  • One in five (22%) parents reported them having mood swings or panic attacks
  • And more than one in eight (13%) children were suffering nightmares

As the charity launches its Christmas Secret Santa campaign to help the country’s most vulnerable children, it also explored the effects of the pandemic on families supported by the charity’s Emergency Fund through an investigation.

These in-depth interviews found every family having to make difficult decisions about how to meet their basic needs. With Coronavirus restrictions increasing living costs, most families reported cutting back on essentials like food to put fuel in the car, or falling behind with household bills. One family had already lost their home and others fear they could soon lose theirs. Nearly every parent reported concerning new behaviours in their children such as anger and fear, with some children suffering panic attacks. The pressure for many has been increased by the fact they have a new baby, an unwell child, someone in the home with a disability or because they have to shield.

Deputy chief executive of Action for Children, 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. 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. 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. But these families cannot rely on the generosity of the British public alone, the Government must play its part. The Chancellor must give struggling families peace of mind this Christmas by promising that he will not be cutting Universal Credit payments by over £1,000 a year in the Spring.”


Parents Caroline Rose and Neil Tugby from Sandwell near Birmingham have always been in work since their teens but were both made redundant from the same manufacturer shortly after the first lockdown. Neil was a quality control inspector and Caroline an accountant. She was on maternity leave following the premature birth of their daughter Heidi, who has since been in and out of hospital.

Caroline said: “We had everything planned for Heidi and knew how much we’d need to put away for maternity leave. So, when we were both made redundant, we thought it would be sensible to use the redundancy money to pay off the debt we had and apply for Universal Credit while we looked for new jobs. But they then told us we didn’t qualify as we should’ve used the redundancy money to live on. We were both left completely penniless with no food in the cupboards. That’s when Action for Children stepped in and paid for two food shops and for some toys. I hate asking and I feel guilty, but we aren’t in the position we were a year ago.

“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. I’m now considering selling my engagement ring. We’d definitely be cancelling Christmas this year if we could.”

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.”

Be a Secret Santa for a vulnerable child this Christmas text CHILD to 70607 or visit iamsanta.org.uk


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