The weeks leading up until December 25 are stressful and depressing, the 27-year-old South Londoner tells Metro.co.uk. So much so, she can’t wait for the festivities to be over.
‘Christmas is advertised as being full of joy and love, but I don’t have the means to take part,’ she explains. ‘January is a relief for me. That reminder of what I can’t do has passed; it’s not on the radio, it’s not on the news, it’s not when you’re down the high street. It’s not so harrowing.’
Toni-Ann, who suffers from fibromyalgia and is on benefits looking for work, can’t even afford carpet to keep her flat warm, let alone decorations. Any sort of festive tree is out of the question.
As one of the third of Brits who will be unable to heat their homes this winter, Toni-Ann says she won’t be buying presents either.
‘I care about all the people around me, but I am just not able to afford gifts,’ she says. ‘Especially this year, with the economy, it is extremely difficult. I have to choose between heating, eating, toiletries, cleaning products…. My bills have doubled and it’s all so expensive.
‘If I can afford it I will make a card or look for things that are discounted or with a yellow sticker. I appreciate my loved ones and would love to buy them what I think they deserve. But generally, buying things for people is just not possible, and it makes me feel terrible.’
Although she doesn’t begrudge anyone celebrating this year, Toni-Ann, who volunteers in a local foodbank, admits it’s hard to see people’s homes beautifully decorated and sparkling trees in windows. ‘It’s like you’re not a part of it, like you’re a grinch, ruining Christmas because you can’t give as you’d like to,’ she adds.
However, she won’t spend the day alone, as Toni-Ann has been invited to friends for dinner on Christmas Day – although she’s conscious she won’t be arriving laden with new goodies and expensive gifts.
She has a couple of bits which she has obtained from Olio, the food sharing app, and has upcycled some other items.
‘I start my apologies in November,’ she explains. ‘People know I just don’t have the money to buy them presents. It’s tough and draining mentally.’
Any spare money Toni-Ann does have, she needs to keep warm; her fibromyalgia is exacerbated by the cold, so she has brought heat pads and a charity-shop electric blanket to stave off the pain. She wears a coat and gloves inside.
Through her work at the food bank, Toni-Ann says she can see her experience being echoed all around her.
‘I’ve seen the impact of the cost of living crisis on people. I have friends who were donating to the food bank and volunteering at soup kitchens, and this year they can’t afford to,’ she says. ‘They are in the same position as me; needing the help themselves. Things are really changing for a lot of people.’
Alice Walker is Head of Policy, Research and Campaigns at the charity Centrepoint which has ben supporting Toni-Ann. She tells Metro.co.uk that vulnerable young people are facing a worse time than any seen in recent years.
‘This is not a situation that they can simply budget their way out of: some are left with just £5 a week to live after their rent and bills have been paid,’ she explains.
‘Our conservative estimate is that 30,000 young people could be facing homelessness this winter. We’re worried that the true figure could be much higher because, while the government has announced some support for the poorest households, all the indications are that more and more young people have nowhere to go.’
Six in ten of Generation Z, and half of of Millennials, are worried about the cost of Christmas, according to F&C Investment Trust and Columbia Threadneedle Investments. Their research showed four in ten will spend less on gifts, and 14% will reduce the number of Christmas lights to save on bills.
Meanwhile, 4.9 million adults will skip a meal to buy children presents this Christmas, YouGov research, commissioned by Prezzo has found.
Almost a quarter of UK adults have found it harder to afford to put food on the table because of the rising costs of bills and essential goods, with those in jobs such as nursing and social care being hit the hardest, as well as those unemployed, the survey also highlighted.
Worryingly, many Brits aren’t able to even think about Christmas as they face homelessness in the next few months. Homeless charity Shelter revealed that almost a million private renters in England are living under threat of eviction.
One of them, Zoe Russell, has totally written off the celebrations after learning that she may not even have a roof over her head by Christmas.
Zoe, 29, has been served a Section 21 ‘no fault’ eviction after challenging a rent rise from her landlord via a tribunal – because she says she doesn’t want to share her home with cockroaches.
She complained about the infestation a year ago, but claims nothing has been done. Meanwhile, her rent has seen a £100 increase, bringing it to £910 a month.
She contacted Shelter’s emergency helpline who identified that the eviction notice was invalid as the landlord had not protected her deposit, which has now been returned -but her landlord has served Zoe another no-fault eviction notice.
‘The cockroaches come up under my sink and I’ve seen them under my freezer,’ she tells Metro.co.uk. ‘I’ve caught a couple, and I spray them when I can. I’ve seen three in my bedroom. But when I go downstairs at night to get my laundry, and I turn on the light, there they are.
‘I am petrified of them. They like the dark, so when I turn the light off, I lose sleep thinking about where they are.’
Zoe loves the little bedsit where she’s lived for two years; it’s close to the bar/restaurant where she works front of house, and she has made her room homely with a small table and houseplants.
She’s even happy to ignore the depressing garden space, which has become a dumping ground of shopping trolleys, washing machines and a broken shed full of old beer cans. But she has refused to pay the increase until the infestation has been dealt with.
‘I need to find somewhere else to live, which is really difficult right now. I don’t know how anyone can pay the rent that people are asking for these days. I’ve seen rooms that are smaller than mine for £850. I survive on about £120 a month as it is, for everything after my rent. I don’t have anywhere else to go. It is scary. You don’t know what is coming next. ’
With no savings for a deposit or advance rent on a new place, it means any festivities for Zoe are cancelled this year.
‘I am writing Christmas off. What do I have to celebrate?’ she asks. ‘I can’t buy people presents. I had to ask the job centre for money to buy my work uniform, so there’s no money for extras.’
Zoe’s experience is echoed up and down the country. Research conducted by charity In Kind Direct has found that one in four low-income families will be going without Christmas presents this year, and that 2.4m British adults will turn to charities, food banks or community groups to access unaffordable items this winter.
How you can help
According to the Trussell Trust, more than 14 million people are living in poverty. Most local supermarkets collect donations which then get passed on to a food bank. Or you could donate online.
The Toy Appeal provides gifts to children living in poverty. You can give a present here.
Centrepoint provides young people with accommodation, health support and help with education and work. Donate here.
In Kind Direct supports those experiencing financial hardship, hygiene poverty, domestic violence, unemployment, homelessness and mental health issues. You can donate hygiene products or cash here.
Donations to Shelter could keep people off the streets this Christmas. Click here to help someone out.
Paul Buchanan, In Kind Direct Interim CEO, says his charity has seen ‘unprecedented demand’ for basic personal hygiene products, and that the cost of living crisis has left people going without toilet roll, washing liquid, deodorant, toothpaste, shampoo and period products.
‘Starting the day unable to feel clean negatively affects our mental health and self-esteem,’ he explains ‘Many people have heard of food or fuel poverty which are very real issues. Hygiene poverty is prevalent and on the rise, but often not talked about due to the stigma.’
There are currently 3.15 million adults living in hygiene poverty in the UK and it’s estimated to increase to over 8 million this winter, adds Paul.
‘We hear of people, sometimes children, taking loo roll from school or local cafes. Families sharing toothbrushes and women making their own period products out of plastic bags and cloth. When people are faced with the impossible choice between food or soap, food has to win.’
Critical decision like this are leaving any sort of Christmas celebrations difficult for many families, like Kate Hough’s from Warsall Wood.
Post-Covid, Kate was made redundant from her job in sales, so money is tight. This year she will forgo Christmas dinner and trimmings for the kids; her four children and her sister’s three will have frozen fish fingers and chicken nuggets. Her own husband, her sister and brother-in-law, and her parents will have a smaller turkey, and there will be no crackers or Christmas hats.
Instead they will put jokes in envelopes alongside personalised £1 gifts from discount stores.
There will also be no gifts for the adults and no new decorations, despite the fact that their ten-year-old artificial tree is on its last legs. Even so, Kate has been determined to make things as Christmassy as possible for the children.
‘We made the decision together that there will be no gifts for the adults,’ explains Kate, 33. ‘It’s just more to spend. The cost of crackers is ridiculous, for a bit of cardboard and a silly gift.’
Kate’s older kids – aged four, nine and 11 – will get one gift in their stocking and their other present will have a £50 limit. The baby won’t get anything, and Kate has been selling clothes and shoes via Twig – an online marketplace – to make a bit of extra cash. She says she can’t even think of spending any more than £300 in total for everything.
Kate has never had to rely on food or hygiene banks, and believes she is fortunate in comparison to others who are worse off. She says: ‘I have lots of very helpful family and friends. If I was at a point where I couldn’t afford to buy something, someone would go and get it for me. So I’m very lucky.
‘But Christmas is always a worrying time of year – for everybody – especially for those that haven’t got that money to spend,’ she says. ‘With all the bills going up, it will be even tighter this year. Everything is a stretch, especially with four children.
‘There are days when I can’t go to a shop because I don’t physically have the money to spend – even on essentials. But I am lucky to have family I can ask for help if I need it. Whatever we do, it will be a lovely Christmas, as us all being together is the main thing.
‘I’m so lucky that the kids are very humble. They don’t want the most expensive toys. They are just happy to be together and enjoy Christmas in whatever way we can.’
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