This Christmas, children across the country will be opening presents and celebrating the festive period with friends and family, likely over a large meal with all the trimmings.
But for millions of children living in poverty in the UK, they’re greatest hope is whether they’ll be able to turn on the heating, or if they’ll get any food at all.
A Channel 4 Dispatches programme which aired earlier this month blew the lid off the reality of child poverty in the sixth richest country in the world. Heart-breaking scenes showed young children raiding their piggy banks to help pay the electric bill for heating, while others tell of their experiences going to food banks, or forcing themselves not to eat too much in one day despite being hungry.
Unite Community Norfolk, like a number of other branches across the UK, are at the very frontlines of child poverty through the vital work they do. Since summer last year, the Norfolk branch has teamed up with the local Phoenix Community Centre, FoodHub, the local Labour party, local schools and other groups to help feed children living in the deprived ward of Mile Cross in Norwich over the school holidays.
The project has distributed hundreds of packed lunches and hot meals over the last year and a half, while also providing additional support to their families such as benefits advice.
“Because we’d raised significant funds, we were able to extend our work into Yarmouth, where we prepared nearly 250 Christmas hampers and 500 toys for families with children to go to three local schools,” explained Unite Community branch secretary Brian Green.
Like last Christmas, the Unite Community Norfolk branch will also provide hot meals at the Phoenix Community Centre in Norwich for a total of seven days before and after Christmas, at a time when struggling families are most likely to be hardest up. The meals will include a meat or fish option and a dessert. Toys will also be distributed.
“If it’s anything like last Christmas, we expect to have scores of families in attendance,” Brian noted. “Simply from doing this work, we have seen first-hand how people are becoming more and more desperate.”
Brian, who believes we shouldn’t live in a society where projects such as theirs are necessary, implored people to vote for change by voting Labour on Thursday (December 12).
“Families like those we have supported very literally will not survive another Tory government,” he said. “Universal Credit is already hitting these families extremely hard and the Tories have given every indication they will continue in the same way with their cruel and deeply unfair benefits system. We cannot continue in the old way – people’s lives depend on it.”