Northern Ireland

Cost-of-living crisis: Young families across Northern Ireland face difficult choices for Christmas

Young carer Ella (20) and her dad Spencer from Co Down are among tens of thousands of families in Northern Ireland feeling extra financial pressure this Christmas.
Young carer Ella (20) and her dad Spencer from Co Down are among tens of thousands of families in Northern Ireland feeling extra financial pressure this Christmas. Young carer Ella (20) and her dad Spencer from Co Down are among tens of thousands of families in Northern Ireland feeling extra financial pressure this Christmas.

GROWING financial pressure on young families in Northern Ireland is forcing difficult choices this Christmas, a children’s charity has said.

New polling from Action for Children found that one-in-eight or 12% (50,000) of children in Northern Ireland are living in deprivation, meaning they are going without basics like warmth and fresh food.

For some it even means that holding a Christmas celebration at home will be too difficult.

The research also found that around 100,000 children in Northern Ireland live in families that are unable to save £10 a month, with a similar number with parents who can’t repair essential utilities like fridges or washing machines.

Across the UK as a whole, the charity surveyed 2,004 children aged eight to 18 as well as 200 of the charity’s frontline workers.

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Around a third of children surveyed (33%) said they were worried someone in their class wouldn’t get Christmas presents and three-in-ten were worried a friend or classmate wouldn’t be able to heat their home. 

Three-quarters (75%) of the front line workers said the pressures on families and young people they support were worse than last year, with a third (32%) saying energy bills and food costs (30%) were the biggest financial concerns.

This included one worker in Northern Ireland who supported a family that had been living without a cooker for weeks, while another worker spoke of multiple families across Northern Ireland where children were living in damp and mouldy homes as the families could not afford gas and electric to provide heat and light.

Ella first started her journey as a carer at a young age when her father Spencer suffered a stroke.
Ella first started her journey as a carer at a young age when her father Spencer suffered a stroke. Ella first started her journey as a carer at a young age when her father Spencer suffered a stroke.

Claire Larkin is the Service Co-Ordinator for the Northern Ireland Family Support Hub which is run by Action for Children. 

She said the demand this year was greater than anything she had previously experienced.

“We recently spoke to one mum who was preparing herself to sit her three children down and explain that Christmas just couldn’t happen this year due to the financial difficulties she was experiencing,” she said.

In other example, two children in Northern Ireland were walking 1.5 miles to school every day in the cold weather as the family couldn’t afford a car or winter coats.

Among those affected is young adult carer Ella (20) and her dad Spencer (48) from Co Down.

Her journey as a carer first started aged six when her dad collapsed with a stroke.

His multiple illnesses including severe osteoarthritis, sleep apnoea, severe heart issues and depression then left him unable to work.

Taking on household duties like cooking, cleaning and budgeting from young age, she said the financial pressure has intensified greatly in the last year.

 “We moved to Northern Ireland in 2020, searching for lower living costs as we were struggling to keep up with costs in England,” she said.

“At first it was easier to manage, but in the past year we’ve noticed prices rising so much, we get way less than we used to.

Ella’s child tax credits also stopped in September, bring extra stress for the family, and she said that without food and electric vouchers from Action for Children she would not have made ends meet.

Only able to work a couple of hours each day due to her care needs, Ella says she immediately prioritises her money for electricity as her father depends on a breathing mask.

Lorna Ballard is the charity’s Northern Ireland director said that for children on the breadline, Christmas was anything but magical.

She said missing out on essentials could scar a child’s life and called for the Stormont deadlock to end to address the “brutal cost-of-living crisis”.

Action for Children has now urged the public to get behind their Secret Santa campaign which provides support for Northern Ireland’s most vulnerable children.

Further information is available at iamsanta.org.uk/hope