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Joyless to the world: The stress and sadness of being poor at Christmas

24 Dec 2023 7 minute read
Festive Fun

Stephen Price

‘Cozzie Livs’ has been declared the ‘word of the year’ in Australia according to the people behind Macquarie dictionary.

A term that originated among the UK’s ‘hun culture‘ has made its way to the other side of the earth, reflecting the gallows humour of the young who have fully embraced the funny side to the end of the party era and our descent into bleak, expensive and uncertain times. The 80s revival no one asked for.

We all love a good meme, and as someone whose own sense of humour might cause alarm to even the men in white coats, I feel it’s a positive thing that most of us aren’t being sucked into a constant joyless vortex of worry and misery.

The personal is political

The elephants (plural) in the room while we dance among the flames, however, are that many of us have been sucked into the vortex – many of us are struggling and there are very political reasons why we are where we are today: the decisions made by those in power who actually *want* us to have less money in our pockets. Great news for businesses large and small that we now can’t afford to support.

Rishi Sunak’s ‘hard decisions and fiscal discipline’ are having real and lasting impacts on us all.

Only last year, we were all given £60 a month to help with our utility bills. This year, we’re on our own. And this year, not only is heating an issue, but eating is too.

Standing at the tiny little veggie and vegan section in my local supermarket recently, I thought to myself, ‘I can’t afford to be vegan any more’ – but omnivores and vegans unite this Christmas because a growing number of people can’t afford to buy meat either.

Luckily, lentils and chickpeas are still pretty cheap in comparison to many other protein sources, but don’t get too close this winter however cold it might be.

Supermarket workers are upping the price tags on items at a rate of knots, and many products have risen by 50-100% in the space of a year. We’ve all effectively been given a whopping great pay cut. Hooray!

‘There but for the grace of God’ is a proverb often used when we witness someone who has fallen on hard times. For those who were doled out less grace for reasons unknown – for want of better education or job prospects or some simple bad luck – there is little joy to be had when counting pennies in a supermarket. Choosing the cheaper, less healthy, less tasty options.

Choosing to ration heating while watching the numbers on the smart meter go up and up no matter how little it’s used. Showering less. Getting into bed with your clothes on because it’s too cold to be naked or you’re so broken that even when you know that a shower might help, getting in there is too big a battle in itself.

Ho Ho Ho!

Our decision-makers don’t know that feeling. They never will. Money and opportunity are rarely spoken about when we discuss mental health issues – it’s back on us to ‘go for a walk’, ‘go to the gym’, ‘talk’ – talk about what? Like prayer, it’s all meaningless without action.

I grew up in council houses in the 80s. Like the vast majority of my childhood friends, we weren’t as well off as we thought we were – shielded from reality by our parents, as most parents try their best to do.

Our fridge was often quite empty. To pay for household goods, we had to put 50p (and later £1) into a meter in the back of the TV to get it to play for a few hours (and we all worked out how to get it going with a knife or two 20p pieces if we were ever without), and I remember catching the bus with my mum for her to collect her family allowance on a Tuesday which would help with shopping bills.

Rose tinted specs

Then came the 90s, and my dad followed the industry that had left our area to work all over the UK, and with us kids all in school, my mum studied and worked full-time and we suddenly found ourselves with more money. Upper working class, is that a thing? Either way, just like my peers, our fridges were fuller, our cars were nicer, our holidays sunnier. My parents even went and bought our council house.

What we all expected, as the years went on, as many in my generation found ourselves being the first among our families to go to university, was that things would keep heading in the same direction. The gravy train would just keep on chortling along.

Only, as we all know, our trains ain’t doing very well at the minute either. Like canaries in the mine, they’re well and truly clucked.

*hits cancel*

Everything’s political

Our dire economic situation isn’t just hitting people and businesses where it hurts either. Its tentacles have spread to schools, charities, the health and public sectors, the arts – even the environment and the animal kingdom.

I’m continuously sharing links to dogs in shelters on my social media feeds in the hope that I might help even one find a home this winter, but the statistics around dog abandonment this year are terrifying and it feels like a losing battle. Time and time again, shelters are saying it’s down to that good old word of the year – ‘cozzie livs’.

Some charities even have schemes in place to support people to keep their pets at home with them, helping with the cost of food and other bills. And in the past I’ve condemned those who have had to give up their pets, thinking it selfish, thinking it’s the last thing I would do to mine.

There but for the grace of God I go. If my dogs had to go without, maybe I too would look to give them a better life with someone else. I can’t imagine the pain someone must go through to have to make that decision – to not only separate themselves from perhaps their only joy, but to knowingly separate their pet from their joy, their reason, too.

No one chooses that for themselves.

Isn’t it sad that so many this year have to make that decision.

And isn’t it sad that we are back to having to shield our children from the harsh realities of an empty fridge, a cold home, a Christmas day so very different to the glossy images on our social media feeds.

In the words of Skin from Skunk Anansie, ‘Yes it’s ****ing political. Everything’s political.’

For Trussell Trust’s local food bank finder for those who wish to donate to or use, click here.

For more information from Dogs Trust on support for pet owners during the cost of living crisis, click here.

For information from Citizens Advice on support available during the cost of living crisis, click here.

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5 months ago

Quote: “Our dire economic situation isn’t just hitting people and businesses where it hurts either.” Sorry, but I haven’t seen many businesses being hit. They are in a position to pass any increased costs on to Joe Public, the mug. Whilst doing so they also profiteered out of a dire situation by upping prices more than was necessary which has been reported on in the news. They didn’t suffer believe me!!! Prices went up overnight but are very slow to come down. The buck always gets as far as Joe Public and there it stops.

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