Three children in every primary class face Christmas deprived of the basics

Friday 06 December 2019

Leading charity Action for Children today warns some of the youngest children in the UK are facing a childhood crisis as a new analysis of official figures (1) shows three pupils in every primary school class will be deprived of the basics this Christmas

Almost one million under-10s from low-income families face a festive season with little to celebrate, lacking basics such as a heated home, warm winter coat or fresh food.

With so many families struggling following a decade of austerity and ongoing problems with universal credit, new research from the charity also shows parents below the breadline are able to spend on average just £2 a day per child on food (2) - and struggle to afford nutritious food vital for health and development.

And with no free school meals available during the school holidays, this leaves many worse-off families struggling to afford their children’s lunch. With a typical primary school meal in the UK costing £2.30 a day (3), it means parents can barely afford lunch, let alone breakfast and dinner.

Case study: Leanne, 34, from Glasgow, and her partner have four children under 12 and both work. After the birth of her third child, Leanne decided to return to work but despite both parents working, the family sometimes struggles to put food on the table at the end of the day.

Leanne said: “After my third was old enough, I got myself a 13-hour contract job at night. It wasn’t much but I had three kids under 10 so I wanted to be there for them. My partner was in full-time work and I was part-time, I was so optimistic, and I just thought ‘we are going to be so happy now’. But then all the bills and taxes came in. Despite us both having an income, we had less than ever. I remember saying to my partner that we can’t afford to work.”

As this realisation set in, Leanne found herself spiralling into a state of depression. She said: “I would just sit in all day and cry. I couldn’t do what was right for my kids. Their friends were getting fancy new clothes and new technology and I was struggling to keep a roof over our heads. I couldn’t feed them. They were living off chips and plain pasta to fill them up, but it wasn’t healthy. They weren’t getting the fruit and veg they needed. But what else could we do? There were times I’d make the kids food and just watch them because if I ate, I didn’t know if I would be able to get more food for dinner the next day.

“One day, I went to the Action for Children centre and just broke down. That was when my worker got me access to the food bank. But I was so embarrassed. How was it fair that we are both working, and we are in the food bank, how are people able to survive?”

With Christmas approaching, Leanne is back working just four months after giving birth to her son. She said: “This year I am finding it a lot harder than I did last. Thankfully my mum does the Christmas dinner, but if she didn’t, we wouldn’t be having one. It would be another night of pasta or hot dogs from a can.”

Action for Children says at least 50 of its services have provided food bank support over the past year, and with demand so high, the charity is planning to host unofficial food banks again over the festive season.

Action for Children’s chief executive, Julie Bentley, said: “No parent should have to face the awful prospect of their youngster sitting in the cold without a plate of food to eat at the end of a school day, or skip dinner themselves so their child has a meal.

“Politicians are telling us austerity has ended but every day at Action for Children our frontline services say child poverty levels are at the worst they can remember. While some families will spend the Christmas holidays putting their children to bed early to keep warm because they can’t afford to heat the house, for others it has become the norm not have a winter coat, rely on food banks, or for their children to miss out on hot meals.

“The next Government must deliver ambitious policies to end child poverty and bring in a National Childhood Strategy to give all our children a safe and happy childhood. But until every family has enough money to keep their child warm and well fed, we will continue to help them. That’s why we’re asking the public to get behind our Secret Santa campaign to help us support our most vulnerable children, not just at Christmas but every day.”

Become a Secret Santa to support vulnerable children by texting CHILD to 70607 to donate £10 or by visiting


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Notes to Editors

(1) Action for Children’s analysis examined data from the Department for Work and Pensions’ Family Resources Survey (FRS) which shows 983,279 children aged 10 and under across the UK are living in materially-deprived, low-income families. This is 11% of the total under-10 population of 8,696,553.  The average UK primary school class size – excluding private schools - is 28 children (OECD (2017), 11% of which is 3 pupils.

Low income and material deprivation captures children in families who have a material deprivation score of 25 or more and household income below 70 per cent of average income, before housing costs.

There are 21 indictors of child deprivation in the Family Resources Survey – 12 relate to children’s assets or activities and 9 to their parents’ assets or activities:


-             Outdoor space / facilities to play safely

-             Enough bedrooms for every child 10 years or over and of a different gender

-             Celebrations on special occasions

-             Leisure equipment such as sports equipment or a bicycle

-             At least one week's holiday away from home with family

-             Hobby or leisure activity

-             Have friends round for tea or a snack once a fortnight

-             Go on school trip at least once a term

-             Go to a playgroup at least once a week

-             Attend organised activity once a week

-             Eat fresh fruit and/or vegetables every day

-             Have a warm winter coat

Adult items:

-             Money to decorate home

-             Holiday away from home one week a year not with relatives

-             Home contents insurance

-             Make savings of 10 pounds a month or more

-             Replace worn out furniture

-             Replace broken electrical goods

-             Money to spend on self each week

-             Keep house warm

-             Keep up to date with bills

(2) Action for Children analysed data from the Living Costs and Food Survey (ONS, 2017). Expenditure data is collected from individuals but collated at a household level. In order to calculate weekly food expenditure per child we compared the spending of a one-child family with a two-child family assuming the difference is what was spent on the additional child. Data was weighted. We then worked out a weighted average across couple and lone parent families. We calculated this for families living in poverty (with incomes less than 60% of the median income).

(3) The government allocates £2.30 per day for every free infant school meal taken (Education & Skills Funding Agency, 2019)

  • 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 476 services in communities across the country, the charity helps more than 387,000 children, teenagers, parents and carers a year.