Those of us who unconditionally love the festive season weather the annual arguments about consumerism, excess, and the loss of its true meaning. But none of us can ignore the fact that stress and worry about how to pay for Christmas always feature heavily. The Children’s Society has released research today that shows 28 per cent of families expect to borrow cash to get through the festive season, and more than half of those who have already found themselves in problem debt this year plan to borrow more to cover the cost of Christmas.
None of that should give the impression that parents on low incomes just throw caution to the wind at Christmas. The poorest families are forced to become adept at planning and stretching their finances, but budgeting can only take you so far. A limited income doesn’t just mean limited experiences and fewer ‘nice things’; it can mean missing out on the basics yourself, to ensure your children are warm and fed.
Our own work revealed the precarious situations so many of us find ourselves in all year round. For example, six and a half million households are in debt, or face the prospect of falling into debt within a month, should they lose their jobs. The poorest 10 per cent of households have just £100 saved up. It’s hard to relax and enjoy a Christmas break (if you get one) with your family when every penny has to be accounted for.
So what’s it like for those who’ll never have to worry, for whom Christmas is not a financial pinch point, but an opportunity for yet more luxury in a year already filled with excess?
The latest figures show that the top 1 per cent in Britain now have as much wealth as the bottom 57 per cent of the population combined. That extreme imbalance is damaging enough, but there’s another layer of super-rich individuals who simply wouldn’t recognise the realities the average family faces, let alone those struggling in poverty. Our annual Wealth Tracker aims to make sense of the enormous wealth increases enjoyed by the richest people in Britain over the preceding 12 months. So let’s take a look at what that might pay for over the festive period.
Last year the richest 1,000 people saw their pile grow by a staggering £28.5 billion, which would quite literally pay for Christmas for everyone in the UK, with billions left over. That’s every family’s food, drink, presents, decorations and travel over Christmas. The accrual of the richest 100 people alone could easily pay December’s gas and electricity bill for every household in the UK, while every single second last year, the ten richest people accumulated wealth equivalent to the cost of a full Christmas dinner for six.
Those may seem frivolous comparisons – after all, lots of households can comfortably cover these expenses. But if you were horrified by Shelter’s recent warning that 120,000 kids will be homeless this Christmas, consider that just with their annual gains, the richest 1,000 could buy a house outright for every one of those children.
Remember, none of these redistributions would touch the super rich’s vast existing fortune; only the additional wealth they’ve amassed over one year. If the extreme inequality you see in this country offends or upsets you, how about an early New Year’s resolution? Join us, and fight for a fairer, more equal society.
Lucy Shaddock, Public Affairs & Campaigns Manager