Being poor at Christmas: you can help people in Cardiff

Today, Hana from We Are Cardiff Press talks about what it’s like to be poor at Christmas, and what you can do to help people in your community.

At this time of year, while frenetic consumerism takes hold, we get a pang of guilt.

We see the homeless people scattered around the cold corners of the city, the charity chuggers on Queen Street, the leaflets through your door, and the emotional appeals on TV. We all know that spending £20 on bath bombs is ridiculous, but we do it anyway.

In my day job, I’m a political writer specialising in equality, human rights and poverty. I also grew up in a household that would be classed as ‘in poverty’. I want to try and illustrate why this time of year is particularly hard for people who don’t have enough money to buy food, pay rent, heat their home, and do social things that other people do like buying presents. It’s not ideal to just consider these things once a year, but it’s better than nothing.

Christmas in our house was filled with embarrassment. My mum was embarrassed that she couldn’t give us proper gifts. We were embarrassed that our Christmas decorations were very old, very rubbish donations. We stayed quiet to avoid making our mum feel bad. We were never homeless, but we got very close.

My brother and I knew that we couldn’t have Christmas lists or any kind of requests for presents. We knew that we ‘weren’t as lucky’ as other kids. Anything we received on Christmas day was greeted with a childish joy alongside an uncomfortable understanding – how was it paid for? What would we do without next month? We got into even further debt in winter, and relied on the help of family friends to eat warm dinners and to replace worn-out school clothes.

Going back to school in January was something to absolutely dread. New clothes, bikes, and holidays in particular, were all things we couldn’t compete with. I usually feigned an illness straight after the Christmas break to avoid having to go through the comparison game.

Our family was on a knife edge throughout December, emotionally and financially; the end of Christmas was a relief.

This isn’t an unusual or extreme example.

Nearly a quarter of people in Wales (23%) live in poverty. One third of children in Wales live in poverty. It’s particularly high for lone parents (most are women), disabled people and ethnic minorities.

‘Not having enough money to get by’ is something that becomes much more pronounced at Christmas.

Below I’ve given a crude, and likely not comprehensive round-up of the charity campaigns that I’ve spotted that are running this Christmas in Cardiff for people who are in that 23%. If you know of any more, leave a comment.

  • The number of people declared homeless because they are fleeing domestic abuse has risen in recent years. We recently promoted Project Shoebox, but donations END ON SUNDAY 6th DECEMBER. If you want to give more help to women in refuges, check out Welsh Women’s Aid and Refuge’s Christmas present appeal.
  • Cardiff Foodbank provides emergency food for people in crisis. You can donate food, money or time to help them out. Donating food couldn’t be easier- simply download the shopping list, pop to the shops and purchase one or two (or ten!) non-perishable items, then donate them to the warehouse.
    The Foodbank is normally open Monday-Friday from 10am to 1pm, but please call 029 2048 4120 to make sure someone is there to accept your donation.  You can also donate food at Foodbank Centres when they are open, or at one of these locations: Central Library; Fair Do’s, Canton; Llandaff Surgery; Lloyds Pharmacy, Rhiwbina; Tesco Western Avenue; Parkview Cafe, Canton; Sainsbury’s Local, Albany Road; St Mellons Library; Llanishen Library, or Waitrose Pontprennau
  • The Huggard Centre is a Cardiff-based charity tackling homelessness. Services focus around the day centre that open 365 days of the year, a 20 bed hostel with additional emergency spaces, 14 shared houses with tenant support that accommodate 52 clients. In extreme weather conditions they also open the day centre at night, to provide shelter for people who would otherwise be forced to sleep rough. You can help them by donating money, clothes or your time by volunteering in their kitchen.
  • Oasis Cardiff is a centre for asylum seekers and refugees. They offer classes, employability workshops, dance classes, a women’s only area, mother and toddler groups and support with letters and phone calls regarding asylum and refugee issues. You can help them out by donating clothes – they post requests on their Twitter feed.
  • The Bevan Foundation is an important political voice for people in poverty in Wales. They influence politicians and decision makers by producing excellent research and policy proposals. You can become a member of the Foundation for £36 a year.
  • Llamau provide safe places for hundreds of vulnerable young people, women and children in Wales. They need donations of gifts or items to make up a gift for the hundreds of people they will support this Christmas, who without help would not receive anything. Why not make the most of 3 for 2 offers and donate your free item?
    If you shop online, sign up for Giveasyoulive and choose to support Llamau. Every time you shop online, the retailer will make a donation to us, at no extra cost to you. If you’re shopping online anyway, sign up and help unlock donations towards the cause.
  • The Wallich give vulnerable people the accommodation and support to live safer, happier, more independent lives and to become part of their communities. There has been a 64% increase in rough sleeping in Cardiff over the past two years- the charity’s winter appeal asks you to help bring people in from the cold.
  • The Salvation Army is running a Christmas present appeal, asking people to donate new unwrapped toys and gifts for children, families, older people and homeless people in need this Christmas.
  • Cardiff South Debt Centre is run in partnership with The Bay Church and gives free debt help to anyone who feels weighed down by debt. You can find out more about how CAP can help here.
  • Shelter Cymru helps thousands of people every year who are struggling with bad housing or homelessness, and they campaign to prevent it in the first place. They are an effective campaigning voice for homeless people in Wales. You can make a one-off donation to them to help fund their work.
  • Safer Wales is an independent charity based in Cardiff. They work to help people feel safer and improve the life of our communities in Wales. They offer support and services to people who are suffering domestic abuse; hate crime or harassment; or who are being forced to do things that they do not wish to do. They also work with young people in the Riverside Warehouse youth centre and in schools across Wales. You can volunteer for them or donate money.
  • Barnardo’s Cymru run incredibly important service for children in Wales, around fostering and adoption, young carers, sexual exploitation, child poverty and domestic violence. You can help them in loads of ways.

If you’re worried about money this Christmas, Step Change provide debt advice to people in Cardiff who are struggling with money.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation have produced this great video about how the public define poverty:

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