Can you afford Christmas?
Austerity has become an everyday word in the UK these past years. What is “austerity”? The dictionary defines it as a way of living very simply, where you only buy the things you absolutely need. For many people in the UK, austerity has been the normal way of life for years now. David Cameron, the Prime Minister, announced austerity measures in 2010. He said they were the only way to reduce the budget deficit and that they would require a tightening up of social welfare and a streamlining of public sector jobs, meaning thousands would become unemployed. Austerity measures in the UK have been controversial and unpopular and Cameron has been widely criticized for imposing austerity on those who need help the most, the poor and the sick, while leaving the rich largely untouched by the reforms.
Christmas and austerity are a bad combination. How will people facing the Christmas period with little money and disappearing benefits manage? One in five Scots say that they will have trouble affording a Christmas tree this year. Forty percent of Northern Irish people say they are extremely worried about how they will afford Christmas this year. Going into debt is a serious concern for many people. Pay day loans are a popular way to finance Christmas: money is borrowed with the plan that it will be paid back in on January pay day. But the families who are borrowing money in this way are already having trouble meeting their everyday costs and often can’t afford to pay back in January. Then these pay day loans can run at interest rates of up to 365% per year. Debt can very quickly spiral out of control.
Food banks have become a common feature of life in the UK. Run by churches and voluntary organizations, food banks collect groceries and other every day needs such as toilet paper and nappies. The main way donations are made is through supermarket collections. Volunteers meet shoppers at the entrance to supermarkets and give them a “food bank shopping list”. This lists what there is a shortage of at that time. Shoppers then can buy an extra item or two while they are shopping and donate them to the volunteers on the way out. Once the groceries have arrived at the food bank they are sorted into boxes and given to people in need. Social workers, welfare officers, the police and other people working in the community identify the people most in need and give them a food bank voucher that they can exchange for groceries. The Trussell Trust, one of the main food bank operators with 400 food banks nationwide, reported that 913,138 people have received food parcels so far this year, an increase of 163% from last year.
For families using the food bank, Christmas is an extra hard time of year. Not only can they not serve good food, they also can’t afford presents for the children. There are currently appeals going on across the UK for toys for poor families. An inner city London charity is asking for “dolls, teddy bears and action figures, board games and books, to give to all ages from newborn babies to 16-year-old teens”. These will be given out via food banks to poor families and will hopefully give them some joy on Christmas Day.
How long will austerity last? No-one really knows. Some signs of economic recovery have been reported, but for many areas for the UK, there is currently no light at the end of the tunnel and austerity may be the norm for years to come.
What do these words mean? Look up the ones you don’t know or discuss what they mean with your teacher.
- budget deficit
- social welfare
- public sector
2 UNDERSTANDING THE TEXT
Explain in your own words how these things work:
- Pay day loans
- Food banks
- Christmas toy appeals
Imagine you are working at a food bank and you want to make a poster to encourage people to donate food and gifts for Christmas. Design and make your poster.
4 FURTHER WORK
Look at the Trussell Trust website that is linked under Sources. How many people have gotten help from them now? Choose one of their food banks and find out more about it. How is it organized? How do they collect and distribute food? Present your findings to your class.