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More than a third of struggling families will rely on charity food parcels this Christmas 

  • Survey of families on Universal Credit and Child Tax Credit finds 37% will rely on charity food parcels or charity Christmas meals, while 21% will use donated Christmas gifts.
  • 84% of families say financial pressures caused by Covid will make the cost of Christmas a struggle, with 60% reporting they will go into debt to pay for Christmas.
  • Donate to Save the Children's Emergency Fund 
More than a third of the UK’s poorest families will have to rely on charity food parcels this Christmas, new research by Save the Children reveals.

Some 60% of families on Universal Credit and Child Tax Credit surveyed reported that they will go into debt over the Christmas period, with 32% reporting they will borrow on credit cards.

Some 69% of families receiving the benefits say they are more worried about their finances since the pandemic started, with 84% of these reporting that they will struggle to cover the cost of Christmas this year.

More than half of parents are worried about being able to afford Christmas presents for their children this year, and 21% of those surveyed said they will rely on donated gifts. Some 65% say they will have to cut back on essentials like food and heating to cover the cost of Christmas.

Parents spoke of feeling ‘ashamed’ and ‘depressed’ that they could not afford to buy their children the Christmas presents they want, while others said they felt like ‘failures as parents.’

Save the Children is warning that more children will be plunged into poverty as a result of the pandemic, with job losses and the costs of lockdown forcing many families to cut back on food or electricity, rely on food banks or run up debts to get by.

Rebecca and her 8-year-old daughter, from Norfolk, will be relying on donated food this Christmas as Rebecca says Universal Credit is “not enough to live off as it is.”

My sister-in-law is going to give us a chicken for our gift this year, as my daughter really wants a roast dinner. For everything else, we rely on our local church who give us food parcels. It’s food that the supermarket can’t sell so it’s luck of the draw what we get – sometimes it’s just some out-of-date bread and a lettuce. But even if it’s out of date, it’s at least something. I don’t know what we’d do otherwise,” she said.

Last year a charity gave us a Christmas tree so we still have that, which is nice. On the one hand it’s so nice to have so much help, but on the other hand its demoralising. I want to pay for things myself but the government just doesn’t give us enough support.”

Universal credit just isn’t enough to live off. I’m not a frivolous person who spends money on nonsense -- I only use the money for food and heating. In the winter it’s even more difficult because the heating costs so much. We’re frugal and we use blankets and jumpers, but when you’re literally counting every single penny, even a bit of extra heating gets so expensive.”

Save the Children is urging the government to commit to keeping in place the £20-a-week uplift to Universal Credit, introduced in April to help families cope with the pandemic.

Research carried out by the charity in September found that 40% of families would have to cut back on food or other essentials if the government takes away the £20 does not maintain the uplift from April next year.

The charity wants the government to provide immediate reassurance to families and children that this support will remain in place next year.  

Dan Paskins, Director of UK Impact at Save the Children, said:

Every parent wants to protect the magic of Christmas for their children, but when you’re already having to make impossible choices between heating your home or putting food on the table, there’s nothing left over for gifts or treats. Many struggling families have seen their household budgets stretched to the limit by the pandemic, and they will continue to feel the economic impacts of the crisis for some time.”


“Christmas is going to be especially difficult for many families this year, but the impacts of growing up in poverty will continue to affect children long after the Christmas lights come down – especially if the government takes away over £1,000 in benefits from families from April. We urge the government to keep the uplift to Universal Credit and make a clear commitment to families that they and their children won’t be facing an even tougher time that they are at the moment.”



Opinium conducted an online survey of 1000 parents of children under 18 across the UK, claiming either Universal Credit or Child Tax Credit, and who celebrate Christmas, for Save the Children in November 2020.