WITH a beautiful new baby girl and a doting fiancé, Caroline Rose should be looking forward to her family's first Christmas Day at home.
But instead, the mum wishes she could CANCEL this Christmas altogether – after the Covid pandemic left her so broke she had just £12.12 in the bank.
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Accountant Caroline, 28, and her partner Neil Tugby, a quality control inspector, were both made redundant shortly after the first lockdown.
Left "completely penniless" after being turned down for Universal Credit payments, they were eventually forced to accept food and toy donations.
Now, with the family still struggling to make ends meet, Caroline is considering selling her engagement ring to raise some much-needed cash.
I’m now considering selling my engagement ring. We’d definitely be cancelling Christmas this year if we could
“I think we had £12.12 in the bank at one point," she says.
"How am I going to pay our rent? We’re probably going to lose our house as our savings have run out. I’m now considering selling my engagement ring.
"We’d definitely be cancelling Christmas this year if we could.”
The couple, from Sandwell, West Midlands, are among one in six parents who would 'cancel' Christmas this year if they were able to, according to new research.
One in 6 want to 'cancel' Xmas
A shock poll released today by Action for Children reveals 17 per cent of parents would choose to not celebrate the occasion amid the pandemic.
And while struggling mums and dads are wishing Christmas Day away, children have their own concerns about what is usually a magical time.
More than half – 57 per cent – of youngsters think their parents will be worried about making Christmas a happy event for the family, the survey found.
“If I didn’t have the kids, I’d definitely cancel Christmas this year," says mum Jennifer Hobbs, from Bristol. "It would just be a normal day."
Jennifer's son Stan, 16, has been struggling to cope emotionally during the pandemic, with his heart condition and asthma making him vulnerable.
After eight months of missing birthdays and not seeing his dad, who lives separately, as much, he's now sad about what Christmas will look like.
"Not being able to see my family is the worst," says the teen.
"Christmas is coming up and even though we [are] allowed to mix, I don’t think I’ll be able to see any of them because the risk is too high."
Christmas is coming up and even though we're allowed to mix, I don’t think I’ll be able to see any of them because the risk is too high
Mum Jennifer, who has been isolating along with younger son Nathan to keep Stan safe, adds: “This whole year has been very, very stressful.
"Such an emotional rollercoaster, it’s been very scary in fact.”
Boris Johnson last week announced that three households can meet up inside for five days over Christmas in a much-needed boost for the nation.
Dreading the festive season
But for Caroline, just the thought of this Christmas fills her with dread.
As well as their job losses, she and Neil have been in and out of hospital with baby daughter Heidi since her premature birth last December.
"We didn't get discharged from hospital until January 6," Caroline tells us. "So we literally spent all Christmas and New Year in hospital."
Caroline, who has been in work since her teens, was on maternity leave when she and Neil were made redundant from the same manufacturer.
In what they considered a sensible move, they used their redundancy money to pay off the Covid-related debt they'd started to accumulate.
They also applied for Universal Credit while looking for new jobs.
But the new mother claims: "They then told us we didn’t qualify [for the benefit] as we should’ve used the redundancy money to live on.
"We were both left completely penniless with no food in the cupboards".
46% parents facing first Christmas on Universal Credit
The poll, of more than 1,000 British parents and 1,000 children, revealed a new wave of parents are struggling this year for the first time.
Nearly half – 46 per cent – of mums and dads on Universal Credit said they were facing their first ever Christmas on the benefit.
Of these, a whopping 41 per cent wished they could cancel Christmas, according to the survey, carried out with YouGov.
And 55 per cent reported plans to delay paying household bills, borrow money or sell belongings to pay for festive celebrations.
Neil’s hair and beard is falling out from all the stress… it's really upsetting because he absolutely loved his beard
Suddenly broke and desperate, Caroline and Neil were grateful when Action for Children stepped in and paid for two food shops for them.
The charity also bought some toys for Heidi, and Caroline says: "I hate asking and I feel guilty, but we aren’t in the position we were a year ago."
She adds: “I’m dreading Christmas as I’m struggling with my mental health, and Neil’s hair and beard is falling out from all the stress too.
"It's really upsetting because he absolutely loved his beard."
STRUGGLING FAMILIES’ COVID PLIGHT
IT'S meant to be the most magical time of the year.
But with Covid restrictions increasing living costs, struggling families up and down the UK are dreading the Christmas period.
Parents have been forced to cut back on essentials like food to put fuel in the car, according to the UK charity Action for Children.
Others have fallen behind with household bills.
One family, supported by the charity’s Emergency Fund, said they had already lost their home. And others fear they could soon lose theirs.
Many parents have also witnessed concerning new behaviours in their children during the pandemic, such as anger, fear and anxiety.
Some youngsters have been suffering panic attacks for the first time.
Before coronavirus hit, more than four million children – nine in every school class of 30 – in the UK were locked in poverty.
Now, Action for Children is launching its Christmas Secret Santa campaign to help some of the country’s most vulnerable kids.
The charity's deputy chief executive Carol Iddon says: “In a year when children and families have been pushed deeper into crisis, supporting them is more important than ever.
"Until every family can keep their child warm and well fed, we’ll be there to help them – that’s why we’re asking people to donate to help us make a life-changing difference to vulnerable children this Christmas and beyond.
"But these families cannot rely on the generosity of the British public alone, the Government must play its part.
"The Chancellor must give struggling families peace of mind this Christmas by promising that he will not be cutting Universal Credit payments by over £1,000 a year in the Spring.”
Households on Universal Credit currently get an extra £1,040 a year thanks to a temporary increase, which was introduced in April.
But it emerged last week that they won't find out whether the £20-per-week boost to their benefits will be extended until next year.
A 'really rubbish' year
Though Neil managed to get a temp job, he was let go after a few weeks because he and Caroline had to shield ahead of recent surgery for Heidi.
Fortunately, Neil started more temp work last week while Caroline has found a part-time job, which has "taken the pressure off a little bit".
They've also managed to get a couple of Universal Credit payments.
But they've still got some catching up to do.
"It's been a really rubbish year all-round," says Caroline.
"This is our first Christmas at home all together and it's been ruined."
Jane and Deion Griffiths, who live with their young family in Connah’s Quay, North Wales, have also struggled financially during the pandemic.
Jane says: "Deion’s work at a recycling plant dried up back in March and as he is an agency worker, he didn’t qualify for furlough. We’ve had to rely on Universal Credit and it’s been tough trying to feed everyone."
With Christmas approaching, she admits they're "beginning to panic".
"As it’s been such a terrible year for the kids, we really wanted to give them a great Christmas but now we’ll be concentrating on making it through December to the next Universal Credit payment," she adds.
Single dad's struggles
Single dad Mike Trower, 33, from Paignton, Devon, knows all too well how financial woes can impact on your day-to-day life with children.
He is on Universal Credit, but lockdown restrictions have increased his family's living costs – with he and the kids spending more time at home.
Now, Mike is struggling to afford petrol, household bills, and a new school jumper for his four-year-old son Cody, who has outgrown his old one.
"I'm on my emergency electric," he says.
"Cody's school jumper doesn't fit him anymore so he hasn't gone to school with a jumper on. He's got a coat on though. And I've got to get a branded one, so that's another – I don't even know how much it is."
He adds: "So now I've got to buy [a] jumper, fuel, electric – and it's Christmas coming up. It's not a good day for me."
Cody's school jumper doesn't fit him anymore so he hasn't gone to school with a jumper on… and I've got to get a branded one
Mike – whose plans to open a new business had to be put on hold when the pandemic struck – has been given money towards his gas and electric bills by Action for Children, while Cody's school has helped out with food.
But he says: "I've seen a lot of people buying stuff off Amazon and buying new things to do with their kids. And I haven't been able to do anything like that. I don't know how people have managed to buy new things to do."
'My son, 4, has panic attacks'
As well as his money worries, the doting dad – who also has two-year-old daughter Lara – has seen son Cody's behaviour change dramatically.
"He now has real social anxiety," says Mike.
"He regularly tells me he’s sad and angry. He’ll scream out the car window and cry and have a panic attack – it’s because he’s spent so much time with me this year and now he struggles to be on his own.
"His bed is just across the hall through the lounge – I now have to leave the lounge and hall lights on as he says my room is too far away."
Third of youngsters feel lonely
And little Cody is far from alone in his pandemic-related struggles.
According to the new poll, 49 per cent of children have suffered anxiety during the coronavirus crisis, while a third have felt lonely.
The research also found more than one in eight – 13 per cent of – youngsters had suffered nightmares, and 38 per cent feared getting ill or dying.
“Christmas should be the most exciting time of the year but instead children and young people are desperately struggling to get through this crisis, with parents wishing away the pressure of the festive season," says Action for Children's deputy chief executive Carol Iddon.
“Every day our frontline workers are helping parents keep their heads above water as some face the prospect of eviction or selling belongings to cover the cost of Christmas.
"While vulnerable children who should be enjoying a safe and happy childhood are suffering nightmares, panic attacks, or being scared of issues like death and illness."
But with Christmas less than four weeks away, even Britain's most hard-hit families have been trying to make the most of a difficult situation.
"This weekend we sold the rocking chair I had when Heidi was born – and some other bits – to help us buy a second-hand trike," Caroline tells us.
"So she's got a trike for Christmas."
And Mike has even been selflessly cooking meals for the homeless, using food donated by shops that is going out of date that day.
The creative dad has also been filming videos to help other poverty-stricken families make the most out of food bank kits and corner shop food.
"The kids help me for about 10 or 15 minutes – then they move on to whatever they want to do!" says Mike.
"They haven't got a clue what we've been through."
- Thousands of children and young people face Christmas without a hot meal, a present or a safe place to sleep. Action for Children's Christmas Secret Santa campaign aims to help Britain's most vulnerable children. Be a Secret Santa for a vulnerable child this Christmas: text CHILD to 70607 or visit iamsanta.org.uk
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