Leading article: Reasons for optimism over this austere winter

Your donations to our Christmas appeal give the lie to the notion that Britain has become a selfish society

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It is more than a year since the recession ended, but many families continue to feel the chill winds of economic winter. The main earner in many homes is out of work. Though the economy is growing again, unemployment remains just as high as it was a year ago.

Times are also tough for many of those fortunate enough to have kept their jobs. Wages are stagnant, but inflation remains persistent, putting a squeeze on living standards. House prices are sliding again, although this offers little cheer to prospective first-time-buyers because the banks are still not lending. And there is more pain to come in the new year when VAT goes up and public spending cuts begin in earnest.

The Coalition Government is strapped for cash too. This week the public borrowing figures for November came in higher than expected. Concerns are mounting that the Government's deficit reduction policies are too hasty. More worrying is that the Coalition feels there is no need for an economic "plan B". If savage austerity does not succeed in jump-starting growth, ministers are likely to increase the dose. So there are good reasons for trepidation as families come together for the Christmas holidays.

Yet this break should also be a time for the counting of blessings. Most of us will spend the coming days in the company of family and friends. Despite the cold and snow, most of us will be warm and well-fed. For all the economic foreboding which fills the headlines, we are materially better off as a society than any previous generation.

That is not a universal reality. As our Christmas Charity Appeal over this past month has demonstrated, there are people in the world who have far harder existences than most of us in Britain will ever know. In recent weeks we have reported on homeless children of Kolkata railway station, girls abused by sex tourists in Gambia, residents of Haiti's ruined Cité Soleil, and the ostracised former "bush wives" of rebels in Sierra Leone.

And here in Britain there are young people who, compared with most of society, live intensely difficult lives too. We reported the case of Stacey Cuddy, from Leeds, who became the sole carer of her disabled mother at the age of 12. And we have put a spotlight on the lives of other children in this wealthy country who grow up in poverty, facing a daily struggle to evade the grip of crime and drugs.

The young lives of all those we have written about have been improved by the work of our three sponsored charities, Children on the Edge, Barnardo's and ChildHope. And they are lives that many of you will have helped to brighten through your generous donations to our appeal.

Your contributions will sponsor the work of inspirational figures such as Patrice Millet, who has dedicated his life to working in Haiti's slums despite being diagnosed with terminal cancer two years ago. It will strengthen campaigners such as Lucia Gavrilita, who singlehandedly civilised the state care of disabled infants in the former Soviet satellite nation of Moldova.

Your generosity will help to fund the work of the teachers of Cox's Bazar, who give child beggars in the Bangladeshi town the precious opportunity of an education. It will help sustain ProjetoLegal, which offers poor young men some protection from the arbitrary and casual violence of Rio de Janeiro's police force.

Your donations, at a time when wallets are lighter, give the lie to the notion that Britain has become an inherently materialistic and selfish society. For these acts of altruism, thank you. And we wish all our readers a very happy Christmas.

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