Seven in ten working working parents in Northern Ireland cut back on heating as over half admit to being stressed by money issues in the lead up to Christmas

Monday 12 December 2022
Sad cold child wearing yellow jumper looking out window

New Action for Children research finds seven in ten (71%) working parents surveyed in Northern Ireland have cut back on heating, with two fifths worrying they’ll disappoint their children during the festive season due to money struggles

  • Seven in ten (71%) working parents expressed they have had to cut back on heating their homes due to the cost-of-living crisis.
  • Two fifths (40%) of working parents surveyed in Northern Ireland are worrying they can’t afford Christmas presents their children are asking for, with the same amount worrying they’ll disappoint their children due to money struggles.
  • Seven in ten (70%) of children surveyed said they had seen their parents worrying about money in the past six months
  • Almost all (97%) of Northern Ireland’s working parents polled have worried about money in past six months, with almost half (46%) having worried often – reporting trouble sleeping, worse mental health, getting upset and losing their temper more frequently with their kids.
  • Action for Children frontline workers report a family having to pawn all their electricals to buy food for their children, a child with no bed sleeping on blankets and a single parent with children with additional needs working seven days a week just to survive.
  • One mum said: ‘We only put the heating on for the little one so she can have her bath… we use candles in the evening to light the [living] room just to save on electricity, and luckily that also generates some heat.’
  • One worker asked a young girl if there was anything she would like from Santa this year, to which she replied: ‘Some oil so mummy doesn't have to worry about keeping us warm while we're home from school for Christmas.’

New Action for Children research released today uncovers the cost-of-living turmoil facing millions of working families in the run-up to Christmas.

To launch its annual Secret Santa campaign to help the country’s most vulnerable children, the charity commissioned a unique Savanta ComRes poll of 2,700 UK working parents and their children (nearly 5,500 in total), as well as a regionwide survey of its frontline staff. The research shows how the financial burden families in Northern Ireland are facing is taking an emotional toll on relationships, mental health and Christmas celebrations.

With the highest inflation rate in over 40 years, over half (53%) of working parents surveyed in Northern Ireland admitted to feeling stressed by money concerns in the lead up to Christmas. Nearly all (97%) said they have worried about money over the past six months, with almost half (46%) having worried often. Of those:

  • over half (51%) have had trouble sleeping
  • more than two-fifths (45%) have tried to hide their money worries
  • nearly two-fifths (38%) have noticed their mental health worsen
  • a quarter (25%) have become upset or stressed in front of their children
  • nearly a fifth (17%) have lost their temper with their children, and
  • two fifths (40%) have had an argument with a partner due to financial worries

With reports indicating the UK-wide Energy Support Payment will not reach households in Northern Ireland until the New Year, seven in ten (71%) of working parents surveyed in Northern Ireland expressed they have had to cut back on heating their homes due to the cost-of-living crisis.

The research also shows two fifths (40%) of the working parents polled in Northern Ireland worried they’ll disappoint their children this Christmas due to money struggles, with the same amount worrying they won’t able to afford the presents their children asked for this Christmas, and nine in ten (92%) worried about the impact of rising energy bills this Christmas. Despite their money worries, almost two in five (39%) said they will put on a brave face and try to act happy, while many children in Northern Ireland also reported they felt their mum and dad will be faking their festive cheer (42%).

The polling also recognises the severity of the situation and emotional pressures facing children and teenagers of Northern Ireland families. It revealed:

  • Seven in ten (70%) of those polled had seen their parents worry about money in the last six months
  • Over a quarter of those who’d seen their parents worry in the last six months had also seen their parents become upset or stressed in front of them due to money worries (27%) and over one in five (21%) experienced their parents losing their temper with them.
  • A third (33%) of the children & young people reported thinking their parents can’t afford everything needed to celebrate Christmas, and
  • More than a quarter (28%) thought their parents will be worried about not having enough money to pay usual household bills over the festive period

As a charity that delivers children’s services across the UK, Action for Children is increasingly having to provide emergency relief to families as the cost-of-living crisis deepens.

In a regionwide survey of nearly 200 of its frontline staff during November, it found over two-thirds of those surveyed (69%) are currently supporting a child, young person or family that is experiencing poverty or extreme financial hardship. Nearly half (45%) reported they were extremely worried about the health and wellbeing of the children, young people and families they support due to their financial situation, and one in ten (10%) had even donated their own household items or clothing to families, such is the urgent need.

Three quarters (75%) of children in poverty are in working families¹ with rates expected to worsen² as the cost-of-living crisis continues.

Some of the issues highlighted by the charity’s frontline workers supporting families in Northern Ireland included:

  • a child secretly wearing shoes too small for her because she didn’t want to add to her mum’s worries
  • a family spending evenings in the bedroom together under one electric blanket as they couldn’t afford to turn on heating
  • a child unable to complete his homework because the electricity had run out and it was too dark after he’d returned home
  • a parent turning on the hob to heat up the room due to increased heating costs

One worker asked a young girl if there was anything she would like from Santa this year, to which she replied: ‘Some oil so mummy doesn't have to worry about keeping us warm while we're home from school for Christmas.’

Lorna Ballard, national director for Northern Ireland at Action for Children, said: ‘For most of us the festive season is a happy time, yet as our shocking research shows there will be children all across Northern Ireland who face a very different Christmas this year.

‘Instead of enjoying a safe and happy time, many children in Northern Ireland will wake up on Christmas morning to no presents, food or warmth. Every day our frontline workers are helping families keep their heads above water, making sure they have the basics like hot meals and proper winter clothes, as well as offering emergency support to keep homes warm and help families pay the bills.

‘We need to ensure household incomes are enough for families to afford heating, be able to eat healthy, nutritious food, and fully participate in community life - a huge part of what Christmas should look like. But instead, we are seeing families choosing to cut back on heating their homes, food, celebrations, buying gifts for their partners and children, deciding not to travel to see loved ones and minimising days out as a family.

‘All these cuts have an impact on mental and physical health of a population and Northern Ireland is already disproportionately impacted by poorer outcomes in these areas. Without an Executive, it is difficult to watch the effect of missed opportunities to meaningfully support families with children through this Winter. This crisis is being allowed to grow deeper and wider and we are hugely dissatisfied with the political situation in Northern Ireland. Babies, children, young people and their parents cannot keep paying the price.

‘In yet another year when children and families have been pushed deeper into crisis, supporting them is more important than ever. Until every family can keep their child warm and well fed, we’ll be there to help them – that’s why we’re asking people to donate to help us make a life-changing difference to vulnerable children this Christmas and beyond. With your help we can be a vital lifeline for even more children in Northern Ireland and across the UK.’

Case study: Natasha lives in a small village in Northern Ireland with her son and daughter, Rory and Rosie. Like millions of families across the UK, she is struggling to make ends meet this Christmas.

Natasha reached out to get support from Action for Children for her children, and later admitted that she was also unable to cope with the rising cost of living. She was dreading Christmas, wondering how she would afford to heat the house or buy her children the presents they wanted.

Natasha’s 12 year old daughter Rosie overheard her mother telling her auntie “I don’t know how I’m going to get through Christmas this year.”

Natasha explained, “Rosie’s Santa list was so short and included a food bowl for our dog and heating oil.” When Natasha asked Rosie about it, she told her mum she knew she couldn’t afford Christmas this year and didn’t want to burden her.

Christmas is a huge concern for the family. Natasha says she’s “dreading” this Christmas. Her son Rory has already been asking for large presents, with Natasha having to create stories to explain why Santa can’t bring certain things to them. Rosie is more sensitive to the money shortages and when asked what she wanted for Christmas, she said, ‘Some oil so mummy doesn't have to worry about keeping us warm while we're home for the holidays.’

Natasha continued: ‘It’s upsetting when you see a 12-year-old worrying about the cost of living. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. Will we have enough money to put oil in the tank? Will we have enough money to go to the food shop? Will we have enough to keep the electricity going?’

To become a Secret Santa for Action for Children visit



Laura Holmes, Action for Children (Monday – Wednesday) – 07805 855 556 / [email protected]

Out of hours: 020 3124 0661 / [email protected]


¹ Households below average income: for financial years ending 1995 to 2020 - GOV.UK (

² Resolution Foundation (2022) The Long Squeeze. October 2022

  • We commissioned Savanta ComRes to run a regionally representative UK poll of 2,732 working parents and their children (2,732 children aged 8 to 17). Additional survey boosts were undertaken to increase the total sample in Northern Ireland to 445 working parents and their children (445 children aged 8 to 17). The poll took place online in November 2022. Survey data is available on request.
  • We also ran our own online survey of Action for Children frontline staff from our services in November 2022. 189 staff from across the UK participated.
  • Natasha wishes to remain anonymous due to safeguarding issues – names have been changed to protect the family’s identity.
  • Action for Children protects and supports vulnerable children and young people by providing practical and emotional care and support, ensuring their voices are heard and campaigning to bring lasting improvements to their lives. With 447 services across the UK, in schools and online, in 2021/22 we helped 671,275 children, young people and families.