Christmas is a pain for poor families. Call me the Grinch but it's about empathy

What’s got me saying 'bah humbug' is one of the more troubling reports I’ve read in many years

James Moore
Saturday 22 December 2018 11:09
Comments
The song says it’s the most wonderful time of the year. The way it’s rammed down the throats of people in those households makes it something else
The song says it’s the most wonderful time of the year. The way it’s rammed down the throats of people in those households makes it something else

When I was younger I read a column by, I think, Richard Ingrams in the Observer, on the subject of Christmas. As I recall he was playing the role of Grinch, attacking the festival’s commercialism and the orgy of covetousness it provokes.

There are always one or two of those at this time of year, but at the time I said to myself: “No, that will not be me.” If I get to the stage of having my own column I will never play role of the green furry man and begrudge people enjoying the festive season.

You can guess what’s coming next, can’t you.

What’s got me saying “bah humbug” is one of the more troubling reports I’ve read in many years.

It was compiled by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on the subject of poverty in Britain and it found that nine out of every class of 30 kids in Britain are living in that state as the nation careers madly towards Brexit.

I see a lot of reports with a lot of numbers in them as part of my job. I read them, and if they have something interesting and valuable to say, as with this one, I write about them in my columns. Then I move on.

But I haven’t been able to shake the Rowntree report. It has stayed with me. It haunts me every time I see my kids waiting in line at school. I find myself wondering how many of their friends might be among the 4.1m children it identified as being trapped in poverty.

There must be some. I served a term as a parent governor at the school, saw the stats covering how many of its kids attracted “pupil premium” funding, heard some of the stories.

Every time I hear some radio DJ or TV presenter gushing about Christmas, every time I see an article concerning it, I find myself wondering how it feels for their parents. The stats suggest two thirds of them are in work, probably in jobs that demand long hours for little money.

Are they able to buy gifts? What do they do when confronted by the unrelenting stream of ads screaming buy, buy, buy? How do they feel as the Christmas staples play over the speakers when they visit the supermarket late on the weekend? That’s when the reduced sections fill up with perishable products close to their sell by dates.

On Radio Five they recently held a discussion on “this most political of Christmases” and how to deal with family disagreements on matters affecting the nation.

If the DJ had ever experienced going without, they would have realised that family disagreements at the Christmas dinner table take second place to worrying about putting something on that table in millions of British households. Millions.

The song says it’s the most wonderful time of the year. The way it’s rammed down the throats of people in those households makes it something else.

There is a political element to this, mind. We shouldn’t forget that. The levels of poverty in this country are as high as they are as a result of the deliberate and calculated political choices made by the Conservative government.

Take the four-year benefits freeze, which impacts upon working families and those without jobs. It could have taken its feet off the necks of these people in the budget by scrapping it. At the time chancellor Philip Hammond had the flexibility to do so. He chose not to.

New claimants won’t even get the pitiful £10 extra paid at Christmas under Universal Credit, the ham-fisted introduction of which has caused untold hardship. It’s the sort of sum that might buy a small toy or some other token for a child who doesn’t see a lot of happiness. From this government, they won’t even get the lump of coal favoured as a gift by the Mister Men’s Mr Mean.

This was done for a reason.

Theresa May and her ministers calculated that tax cuts for the better off would deliver more votes. They took the view that sufficient numbers of people in this country couldn’t care less about the hardships of their countrymen and women and would instead prefer cheaper petrol and paying a bit less into the state’s coffers. That’s doubly true of the geriatric army that makes up its membership.

I take some heart from the fact that I don’t believe I’m alone in feeling a simmering anger over this.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

I’ve noticed a lot of people getting fired up about the number of people sleeping rough in my City – London – of late.

There are people who care in this country, and who think about others. And isn’t that what Christmas is supposed to be about? Isn’t that the central message of the story that helped define it in the Victorian era? I’m talking, of course, about Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

So perhaps there are grounds for optimism that, perhaps, with a push, we can send a message to a government that has been doing a fantastic impression of Ebenezer Scrooge before the visit of Marley’s ghost.

That would make for happier Christmases in future, and no need for me to play Grinch.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in