Down’s most vulnerable children will have to turkey and trimmings this Christmas.
A Down teacher fears some of her most vulnerable pupils may go without Christmas dinner this year as food banks brace themselves for the seasonal rush.
“Food banks here saw a surge in numbers during the summer holidays and as families struggle to give their children some kind of Christmas we worry the festive season will be even more financially challenging for many,” said Carney Cumper, vice principal of Killyleagh Integrated Primary and Past President of the Ulster Teachers’ Union.
“Families whose children might normally have access to school breakfast clubs and free school dinners will have to fill those gaps themselves – as well as trying to cover the extra outgoings that Christmas brings.
“Some children have already seen their breakfast clubs disappear as changes to funding under what’s known as the Extended Schools Programme were introduced this year.
“The alternative for families worst effected is simply not to have a Christmas – or face an even bleaker future of high interest loan and credit repayments which all too often lead to a spiral of debt.
“It is heart-breaking for teachers to think that some of the children they know so well, teach and nurture can only look on as others celebrate the season, simply because their parents can’t make ends meet.
“What kind of society allows this to happen – and at Christmas of all times? It is surely the ultimate Scrooge mentality where families, and often working families, are forced to queue, voucher in hand, to receive food parcels made up from well-wishing donors.
“We also have ‘social supermarkets’ operating here which aim to improve access to affordable food through a network of community shops and social stores/supermarkets.
“However, they’re funded from a Mitigation Package which was introduced here to help ease the transfer of families into Universal Credit which disproportionately affects Northern Ireland because of our higher rates of poverty – among the highest in Europe in some areas.
“This Mitigation Package is due to end next March and unless our Assembly reconvenes it seems nothing can stop this.
“However, it should not be down to charities to feed people. No charity can replace the dignity of having enough money to feed yourself and your family and we should all be protected from even needing to use a foodbank or social supermarket, regardless what time of year it is,” added Carney Cumper.