“No one gets presents this year”: Families use food banks over Christmas

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Two boys doze in a pram between rows of bread and a Christmas tree at Dad’s House, a single plaque charity in west London.

Shelves of canned goods and pasta are lined with tinsel, while artificial plant decorations cascade from the ceiling.

It certainly feels like Christmas, but for her family – like many others across the country – this festive season is going to be missing something.

There’s no money for gifts, her mother of two tells The Independent.

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The cost-of-living crisis continues to unfold, with inflation still at an all-time high of 10.7 percent and winter energy bills putting pressure on budgets.

Food banks have seen record-breaking demand this year, with 1.3 million emergency kits distributed in six months, according to charities. Around 320,000 new users sought help from a Trussell Trust grocery bank during that time — up 40 percent from the previous year.

Another food bank network found that the vast majority of its services had helped entirely new users this fall.

Families continue to receive help from a food bank in west London as Christmas approaches

(Zoe Tidman / The Independent)

“We’ve never seen anything like it. The cost of living is killing families,” Billy McGranaghan, who runs Dad’s House, told The Independent.

Christmas – with its traditional big dinner and gift giving – is too big an expense for some struggling families.

“The families’ disposable income has been used on gas and electricity,” says Mr. McGranaghan. “So Christmas destroys the soul because a lot of families can’t buy anything.”

Christmas is “soul crushing” for some struggling families, says a food bank founder

(Zoe Tidman / The Independent)

The mother of two told The Independent: “I wish – if I had money – I could buy some gifts for my kids to make them happy and me too. I would buy a small gift that I want.”

But there is no room for gifts this year. The mother cannot work while caring for her children and cannot receive benefits as she is not entitled to public funds.

“Sometimes I don’t even have diapers for my baby … so I’m really suffering,” she says.

The woman received some money from the charity just before Christmas, which she says will go towards basic necessities – like nappies, which she otherwise struggles to afford.

She still plans to celebrate Christmas with “maybe some chicken or turkey for the oven.”

Families, children and adults flock to Dad’s House for a free cooked meal – which the charity offers twice a week – a few days before Christmas.

That includes Deborah Lesley, who tells The Independent she doesn’t have a stove at her house right now, so Christmas dinner may look a little different this year.

It’s not the only thing. “No one gets presents this year,” says the 61-year-old. “I told my son and his girlfriend that. Nobody gets presents.”

Volunteers help pack groceries at Dad’s House in west London

(Zoe Tidman / The Independent)

She says: “I receive benefits. But the benefits don’t increase. Or not yet… They give you a little thing here and there, but does it really cut the mustard?”

Working-age benefits will increase by 10.1 percent from April next year – the rate of inflation in September.

Nick de Stacpoole, a single father of three on universal credit, says he’ll try to get by this Christmas with help from food banks, grocery vouchers from school and a stipend payment from Dad’s House.

Nick de Stacpoole, pictured with two of his daughters, says there is “a lot of help and kindness”.

(Zoe Tidman / The Independent)

“I’ve never been in that position … I haven’t been on welfare since I was in my 20s,” says the single father of three, who is struggling to find a job that balances childcare.

“But I feel like there’s a lot of help, kindness and charity in this country.”

A Government spokesman said: “Our priority will always be to support those most vulnerable and we recognize that as prices soar, people are struggling which is why this year we are protecting millions of those most in need with at least £1,200 in direct aid including £1,200 400 for energy costs.

“Our immediate support also includes our Energy Price Guarantee, which saves a typical household around £900 in winter and our Home Support Fund helps people with essential costs.

“Meanwhile, the changes we’ve made to Universal Credit are helping people keep more of what they earn, and Chancellor Merkel recently announced another substantial living expenses package to ensure those most in need are also supported over the next year will.”

London Herald