In case the winking multicoloured lights, emails about the office party and the exponential increase in songs by The Pogues being played on the radio weren't enough of a giveaway, Christmas is coming. It's a time to spend with loved ones; a time share a roast (or just a glass of mulled wine) with friends and family, and to slow down and take stock.
But there is no denying that Christmas is also about consumerism (this is not new—even the original Christmas story features presents), and so in a period bookended by Black Friday and Boxing day sales, Christmas is also a chance to reflect on those who may not be so lucky.
Indeed, the reports of increased spending (Smithers, 2018) stand contrast with stories of a similar rise in poverty. The homelessness charity Shelter reported that there are at least 320 000 homeless people in Britain (Butler, 2018), and handouts of three-day emergency food parcels have increased by 13% in the 2017/18 financial year (The Trussell Trust, 2018).
While these statistics represent the scale of poverty in the population at large, within this, there are groups who have more specific needs. This year, there were shocking reports of ‘period poverty’ in the UK, whereby an estimated 1 in 10 women aged 14–21 years have been unable to afford sanitary products (Abbott, 2018). This led journalist Sali Hughes and beauty PR Jo Jones set up Beauty Banks, a foodbank-style initiative for hygiene products, such as toothpaste, deodorant and shower gel. Likewise, of the 1 332 952 three-day supplies provided by The Trussell Trust (2018), 36% went to children.
Pregnant women, babies and young children, meet at the overlapping point of these two groups. As midwives know, the birth of a child is an expensive time for any family, but a vulnerable family relying on a foodbank will need more than just pasta and tinned vegetables. Memuna Sowe, British Jounral of Midwifery's Midwife of the Year 2018, recognised this, and collected baby supplies for families in her community who were in need, making a huge difference to the care that they were able to provide their children. Accordingly, charities are also requesting donations of baby essentials, such as nappies, antiseptic cream, and baby powder. This is more than an issue of dignity: these are supplies that parents need to give their children the best start in life and to care for them according to the advice of their midwife.
Christmas is a time of celebration, and a baby born at this time of year should bring extra cheer, not extra strain. Yet pregnant women, babies and young children risk being forgotten by members of the public, who may not have the foresight or expertise to anticipate their needs. A pack of nappies, a blanket or a board book might not be the most glamorous present, and you may never meet the recipient, but with more incentives than ever to shop, it has never been easier or more rewarding to a give a gift to someone in need.