Skip navigation

The challenges facing families this Christmas

13 November 2023

Christmas is a time for giving. So how does it feel when we just can’t give? For too many of us this winter, the idea of Christmas isn’t filled with joy, but anxiety. In a cost of living crisis it can feel at times as if everyone is struggling, but the festive season is a time when the difference between ‘have’ and ‘have not’ feels particularly stark.  

1 in 7 parents can’t afford a present for their child this Christmas.

As our frontline teams work hard to support people at a time that can feel especially difficult for lots of reasons, we have also launched our annual Toy Appeal for families whose children might otherwise have nothing to open on Christmas Day.  Our winter survey of parents and carers in the UK asked about their experiences in the run-up to the season and it shows just how bleak things are looking this year.  

1 in 7 parents and carers won’t be able to afford presents for their children. A quarter of parents and carers say they won’t be able to afford presents for their children’s grandparents, and almost a quarter say they won’t be buying for their partner. These national statistics are reflected in real life at our local Food Clubs in communities all around the country. 

“My family don’t get presents, and that’s just because I don’t have the money. I used to be able to, but not anymore” – Mum, Kay

20 per cent of the parents and carers we surveyed even told us they will go without heating their home this Christmas. In a year when Joseph Rowntree Foundation research is highlighting that 1 million children in the UK are living in such poverty it can be classified as destitution, our annual survey shows that more and more families are reaching a point where they too are needing help, and often not knowing where to turn.  

54% of parents and carers in our survey felt that Christmas was going to negatively affect their mental health due to worrying about money. Almost half the parents and carers we asked (47%) agreed that they expect to be in debt after Christmas 2023, with almost 3 in 10 still paying off debt from last year’s Christmas.  

Those parents and carers may worry about children thinking they’ve been ‘bad’ if Santa doesn’t come. Our FOOD Club members talk of ‘squeezing’ for Christmas and prepping in last year’s January sales, but there’s no dressing up the fact that things feel really hard. 

“I’m drumming it into my kids that they won’t be getting presents this Christmas. It’s extremely difficult” – Dad, Barry

Family Action has been finding ways to support people through hard times in their lives for over 150 years, but what we’re seeing and hearing this year feels like we’ve time travelled back to 1869.  Our ‘Make theirs Magic’ campaign is a response to that feeling of being cut off from what you know is supposed to be a special, happy time.

This message from David Holmes, CBE, our Chief Executive, sums up what the campaign is and how you can help: 

“Every family deserves comfort and joy at Christmas, but with the high costs of food and utilities, many will find their holiday season stressful and difficult. We work with thousands of families across the country, and from our research findings and feedback from our frontline staff, we know only too well the challenges families are facing. Family Action has a “sleigh load” of practical and emotional support to offer families through our FOOD clubs, financial grants, FamilyLine, and our Christmas Toy Appeal, which will deliver thousands of toys across the country to children who would otherwise go without. By supporting our ‘Make Theirs Magic’ campaign, people can help with a special gift that could bring Christmas cheer to a child and their family. Together, we can keep the magic of Christmas alive. Thank you.”   

You can help a family that’s struggling this Christmas by donating to our Make Theirs Magic Toy Appeal.