Christmas cheer, capitalist fears, and financial tears

by Caitlin Stimpson

Oh what fun it is to ride on a one.. sided income during the biggest holiday of the year…

Jingles aside, Christmas 2021 is rearing its head, and there’s a wealth of pressures that come with this time of year. Lots of single-parent families among many other marginalised communities that experience financial struggles may experience ‘present pressure’, mainly the fault of social media, unsurprisingly. The constant expectation of having an Instagram-perfect Christmas, the perfect tree, matching Christmas pajamas, gingerbread houses, and bountiful amounts of gifts.

What we don’t often see is just how much effort lots of struggling families go through just to be able to get by. Emma Gray, a 41-year-old single mum from Plymouth talked about her raw and honest thoughts about this time of year, and how once such an exciting time of year is now just another pressurising chore.

Emma’s two children holding hands on a beach. Supplied by Emma Gray
Emma’s two children holding hands on a beach. Supplied by Emma Gray

“I worry my silence is deafening to other mums.”

Emma perches on her sofa with a cup of coffee, takes a deep breath and begins to tell me, “I’ve recently come out of an emotionally abusive relationship with a narcissist. He was controlling in many ways, which I’m processing, but the financial element of it has left me terrified for Christmas. I’m an amazing saver and budgeter, but he’s ruined everything I built.

Every time I walk into the city centre, I’m blasted with flashing town lights, market stalls selling £5 pints of mulled cider, black Friday offers, all seemingly happy atmospheres. But it makes me feel anxious, and I’m absolutely dreading Christmas.”

When asking Emma how she feels about social media pressures, she didn’t hesitate to have her say on the matter. “Things like Facebook and Instagram don’t help, with the constant parent-battles of constantly one-upping each other materialistically, and I take no real notice of it, but because I’m not putting up daily diary updates on my Facebook page. It just puts families like mine in the spotlight, and I worry my silence is deafening to other mums.”

“I was able to get myself a job in bar work recently to save for rent and hopefully Christmas for the kids, but that job fell through due to weaponry being carried into the establishment by a regular customer, I just couldn’t work there anymore. They didn’t even give him a permanent ban and my anxiety was through the roof. Plymouth’s going through a real safety issue at the moment, affecting women, mostly. There doesn’t look like there’s much to be excited for. But luckily my children are happy and healthy, but it’s definitely gonna be a year where they learn gratitude, that’s for sure.”

What do local authorities have to say on the matter? When speaking with an authority from Plymouth Parent Partnership, they told me that “we were expecting a huge drop in financial security due to the way things are at the minute economically, but what we do here is find eligible support for children, families and single parents who struggle in any way. There’s a small amount of power we have but we do what we can with what we’ve got to offer families. The main way I’d say you could tackle the stigma around these families’ struggles is for us and the public to show compassion, educate people and encourage equality in all the ways we’re currently trying to in the UK at the moment.”

Sadly, it is the reality for most families in the UK that poverty and Christmas go hand in hand, and Emma isn’t the only one. It is estimated that from 2018-2021, the number of single-parent families living in poverty had an expected rise of 63% and child poverty has risen to the highest it’s been in 20 years, according to Gingerbread – a non-profit charity for single-parent families. Anyone willing and able to donate to Gingerbread personally, you can find a link here.

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