‘‘No one is getting presents this year’: The families using food banks over Christmas

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Two young boys doze in a pushchair between rows of bread and a Christmas tree in Dad’s House, a charity with a food bank in west London.

Tinsel lines shelves of tinned goods and pasta, while artificial plant decorations fall from the ceiling.

It certainly feels Christmassy, but for their family – like many others across the country – something will be missing this festive season.

There’s no money for presents, their mother of two tells The Independent.

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The cost of living crisis continues to soar, with inflation still at historically high levels at 10.7 per cent and winter energy bills piling pressure on budgets.

Food banks have faced record-breaking need this year, according to charities, with 1.3 million emergency parcels handed out in six months. Around 320,000 new users sought help from a Trussell Trust food bank during this time – up 40 per cent from last year.

Another food bank network found the vast majority of its services had been helping completely new users this autumn.

Families continue to get help at a food bank in west London as Christmas approaches

(Zoe Tidman / The Independent)

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

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

“The disposable income families had has gone to gas and electric,” Mr McGranaghan says. “So Christmas is soul destroying because a lot of families can’t buy anything.”

Christmas is ‘soul destroying’ for some struggling families, a food bank founder says

(Zoe Tidman / The Independent)

The mother-of-two tells The Independent: “I wish – if I had money – I could buy a little bit of presents for my kids so they would be happy And for me too. I would buy a little gift I want.”

But there is no room for presents this year. The mother cannot work while she looks after her children, and cannot get benefits as she has no recourse to public funds.

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

The woman has received some money from the charity just before Christmas, which she says will be going towards essentials – such as nappies that she otherwise struggles to afford.

She is still planning on celebrating Christmas with “maybe a little bit of chicken or turkey to put in the oven”.

Families, children and adults stream into Dad’s House for a free cooked meal – which the charity puts on twice a week – several days before Christmas.

This includes Deborah Lesley, who tells The Independent she does not have a stove at her house at the moment, so Christmas dinner may look a little different this year.

It is not the only thing. “No one is getting presents this year,” the 61-year-old says. “I told my son that, and I told his girlfriend that. No one is getting presents.”

Volunteers help to pack food at Dad’s House in west London

(Zoe Tidman / The Independent)

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

Working-age benefits will rise by 10.1 per cent – the rate of September inflation – from April next year.

Nick de Stacpoole, a single father-of-three who receives universal credit, says he is going to try and make do with help from food banks, food vouchers from school and a grant payment from Dad’s House this Christmas.

Nick de Stacpoole, pictured with two of his daughters, says there is ‘a lot of help and kindness’ around

(Zoe Tidman / The Independent)

“I’ve never been in this position before … I’ve never been on benefits since my 20s,” the single father-of-three, who is struggling to find a job to fit around childcare, says.

“But my feeling is there is a lot of help and kindness and charity out in this country.”


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