Christmas dinners are getting more extravagant, but a shockingly large number of people depend on charity food banks to get enough to eat, says Stephen Jardine.
The final countdown is underway. The next couple of days will see frantic last-minute Christmas shopping in preparation for the big day. Only the most optimistic will trust the internet to deliver on time. The rest of us will go retro and rely on the old fashioned but dependable approach of actually buying things from people in shops.
With presents purchased, attention will then turn to the biggest grocery shop of the year. Last December food-and-drink sales reached record levels with supermarket takings up £1 billion on the previous year. Within that total, mince pie sales were up 13 per cent on the previous year while alcohol sales rose by five per cent. Ahead of the Brexit hangover, retailers are hopeful of an even bigger festive blow out this year.
Researchers at Kantar say there are early indications this could be a bumper festive season with boxed chocolate sales already tipping £292 million. That could lead to grocery sales of £10bn this Christmas giving a welcome boost to the sector at a very uncertain time.
What does that look like for individual families? The average household now spends £228 on food and drink over the holidays. Up and down the land, our shopping lists look remarkably similar. Nowadays we have a very diverse national diet except on 25 December when most of us sit down to the same meal. Ninety per cent of us will eat turkey alongside 390 million Brussels Sprouts and 260 million pigs in blankets. With the average person consuming more than 5,000 calories on Christmas Day, most of us will be very well fed. But not all.
Britain’s biggest foodbank charity The Trussell Trust had its busiest ever month last December with a 10 per cent increase in the number of emergency food parcels distributed. With increased living costs and problems with Universal Credit, the organisation expects this Christmas to be even busier. At Christmas last year, the Trussell Trust provided 159,338 three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis across the country. That’s equivalent to a town with a population the size of Dundee. Within that total, 65,622 food parcels went to children.
It’s a depressing statistic. No child should go hungry at Christmas or any other time and the fact that only charity prevents that is shocking. However, the response is also a measure of the compassion and generosity of the population. Food banks are busiest at this time of the year but it is also when they receive their biggest donations from the public.
The charity Crisis will be helping those not just without food but also without a home this Christmas. In Edinburgh, they will open their doors for three days providing hot meals, showers, health checks and advice on housing to support people living on the streets. The service depends on kind volunteers giving up their Christmas to help others and the rota is already full.
This Christmas more than many others, the future looks uncertain. That’s all the more reason to enjoy the great feast but also to remember those closest to the edge. To them and to you, have a very Happy Christmas.