Santa Claus is coming to town – well, some of them are.
Because this year Santa could found in the job centre rather than a grotto, with 15% fewer jobs for the guy in red being advertised.
And in further bad news, Santa’s salary is also rising less than average, according to job website Indeed.com. So while the average wage has gone up 7%, the most famous inhabitant of the North Pole has seen his rise by just 4%.
And he is not alone in feeling the squeeze – it doesn’t matter whether you are on the naughty or nice list – this year is costing more for everyone.
Sky News investigates the state of the great British Christmas as the cost of living crisis hits harder than ever.
Image: Santa Rob and Donna have set up a grotto at their animal park A stand-in Santa
Competition is fierce for Santa roles, says Jack Kennedy – a senior economist at Indeed.com, with searches for this festive work reaching a six-year high.
“Lots of candidates are chasing fewer seasonal jobs this year,” he adds, attributing it to “cost of living pressures and caution among retail employers”.
Santa Rob – who for the rest of the year runs an animal rescue centre as Robert Baxter alongside his partner Donna Rose – found himself forced to don the big red coat and beard after he was unable to afford to pay a performer for his grotto.
“It’s my genuine calling in life,” he jokes. They have tried to keep costs low to enable lower-income families to visit.
Image: Donna and Rob Their business, Get To Know Animals, in Epping, houses 400 animals, many of which are exotic and require multiple heat lamps and specialist food. “The energy costs are absolutely extortionate,” says Donna.
“We struggled to get through the day and then we had the additional cost of building the grotto, but it just means so much to us that people who can’t afford it could come and meet Santa as well.”
Donna grows teary as she talks about the future of the company, which has suffered from a drop in donations and a decline in footfall: “We are not sure if we are going to make the new year.”
Image: Donna with Goose the skunk Turkeys are growing – and so is the cost
For Jonathan Smith, Christmas preparations start in the summer.
The second-generation farmer welcomes the 4,000-strong flock of day-old chicks to Great Garnett’s farm in Essex at the beginning of June and starts fattening them up for Christmas.
Five years ago, they would have produced around 8,000 turkeys in December, but a decline in foreign labour due to Brexit and the expensive costs of visas has forced the farm to dramatically reduce numbers.
Jonathan is chair of the National Farmers’ Union’s turkey group and says fattening them up is a lengthy process, fraught with the worry of a bird-flu outbreak at any moment – and the cost of living crisis has increased tensions.
Image: Jonathan Smith, of Great Garnett’s farm Because the cost of producing a 5.5kg (21lb) turkey (which is the weight they sell the most of and would feed about eight to ten people) has gone up by 21% in the last year.
Jonathan’s food bill, across the farm, used to average between £12,000 and 15,000 a month. It now stands at £30,000 due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine disrupting grain supplies around Europe.
Read more: How much more expensive is Christmas since inflation surged?
His energy contract, which six years ago was £3,000, in December 2022 reached £20,000 – something he expects to see again this year. And even though these higher prices may be being passed on to shoppers it isn’t dampening their demand for the festive bird.
“Turkeys are just a lot more expensive than they were,” he says. “But we aren’t seeing that reflected in sales – people just accept it and want it for their Christmas lunch.
“They want a special turkey and a special turkey is what we produce.”
Image: But the farm has struggled with the rising cost of living The cost of Christmas
However, the resilience of the turkey trade is not reflected elsewhere. Brits are predicted to buy fewer and cheaper Christmas presents this year.
One forecast by World Remit, the international money transfer firm, suggests that Brits will spend 10% less on Christmas this year. But even with everyone cutting back, WorldRemit says it is expected to cost 23% of the average monthly income.
It is particularly bad for households with children, with one in three struggling to afford a family festive celebration, according to debt charity StepChange.
Dad-of-nine Derrick, 34, says he has delayed paying some bills in a bid to make a magical Christmas for his family, and he and his wife have stopped heating their four-bedroom flat.
Image: The DadsHouse team “I know it’ll be a problem in January, but I am trying not to think about it,” the stay-at-home dad says. With children ranging from 18 to one still unborn, providing for them is no small task.
“Things have always been tight, but it’s definitely getting worse.”
Derrick is supported by DadsHouse, a charity that supports dads in London – although it was founded to help single dads, they welcome anyone in.
In their West London centre, six days before Christmas, a small team of dedicated volunteers are gathered together cooking lunch. Turkey is served alongside lentil soup and salad, while one young boy is given a plate of pasta. Tinsel and fairy lights adorn the ceiling and racks are filled with cans of soup – a foodbank for those who need it.
Billy McGranaghan founded the charity after raising his son alone but the pandemic and subsequent economic downturn has seen demand soar. What started as a way to help dads bond has expanded into a vibrant community hub, with a foodbank, home-cooked meals, homework clubs and guitar lessons.
DadsHouse also runs a Family Law Clinic, and Ceri Parker-Carruthers, the lawyer who manages it, says they are seeing increased family breakdowns inflicted by the economic crisis.
Billy receives up to 20 phone calls a day from people reaching out for help from him and his small team of dedicated volunteers.
Yet, despite the growing desperation of those around him, anyone who walks through their door is greeted with a cheery shout of ‘hello’ from the 60-year-old Scotsman. He is warm and friendly, remembering everyone’s names as he moves around the room, offering them coffee, tea, more turkey, more gravy, a hamper to take home.
Billy grows emotional as he talks about those the charity has helped this year.
“The increase we have seen is unbelievable,” he says. “But when they are here, we want to give them a chance to forget about the outside world for a bit.”
Image: Billy McGranaghan and Patsy Patsy, 68, doesn’t fit the label of ‘single dad’, but she is welcomed to the Christmas meal and sent away with a hamper of goods, the same as anyone else.
And like everyone else, she’s feeling the squeeze this year. “I’ve had to ask my family to chip in for Christmas dinner, it’s too expensive now,” she says.
Sky News data team analysis
Inflation fell to another two-year low of 3.9% in November, but that hasn’t halted historic price rises, including on many Christmas favourites.
Our Christmas list costs £7.50 more than this time last year – a rise of almost 5%, which is faster than the overall level of inflation in the same timeframe (3.9%).
Securing pigs in blankets for your festive feast will come at a higher price this year, with sausages and bacon both up 14%.
While the shopping basket data from the ONS doesn’t have a whole turkey, the centerpiece of many Christmas dinners, it does have prices for pre-cooked turkey slices.
A 100-180g pack increased by just 5p (2%), from £2.26 to £2.31.
What about the trimmings? A kilo of potatoes is 7% more expensive than they were in November 2022. Carrots are 15% more expensive and cauliflower is 4% more.
As for a Christmas tipple, a bottle of cream liqueur is 5% more expensive and a bottle of champagne is up 6%.
Gift buying is also pricier. When you’re stumped about what to buy, socks make for a reliable gift choice but a pair of men’s has increased by 5%, and a lady’s scarf, also great for keeping warm, is now 8% more expensive.
For families with young children, the price of a sit-and-ride toy for under-5s has increased by just 2%, and if you want to combine some festive joy with some Christmas holiday learning, an electronic educational toy has increased by 1%.
A Christmas lifeline – or a road to more debt?
The continued popularity of Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) schemes risks tipping millions of people into debt this Christmas. More than a quarter of Brits will use them to help with Christmas shopping. In some instances, it is almost as common as going into an overdraft – according to Citizen’s Advice.
The charity, who surveyed 2,132 people, has said it is braced to provide debt support in the new year, with some 28% of consumers (equivalent to 15.1 million people) planning to use the unregulated form of credit this December. This rises to 56% of parents with primary-school-aged children.
Citizens Advice, MoneySavingExpert and Which? recently teamed up to urge the Government to protect BNPL users after its commitment to regulating the industry in 2021 appeared to have stalled.
Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said many users do not realise they are taking on debt.
This is because BNPL lending does not require any affordability checks, unlike other credit options.
The charity found 21% of BNPL users have missed or made a late BNPL payment in the last 12 months, with one in 10 of this group visited by an enforcement agent or bailiff as a result.
‘There will be fewer presents – but more love’
Forest Churches Emergency Night Shelters is in its 15th year of providing winter shelter and food for those who are homeless in Waltham Forest and has seen the number of people seeking its help soaring in the last year.
Jessica* spent much of her 20s without a home but, after reaching “breaking point”, found herself at the shelter and is now a volunteer.
“I never could have known that in a year, my life would have done a complete 180,” she says. “I have gone from living somewhere to becoming homeless, to now being part of a community where I can give back.”
This small local shelter has 28 active cases, compared to 10 this time last year.
“I think this is potentially one of the worst Christmases we’ve had,” says David Hoskins, the group’s charity director.
“We simply don’t have enough beds for all of those people who are rough sleeping.”
And this is being echoed across the UK, as research from the charity Crisis revealed nearly a quarter of a million households are spending night after night couch surfing or in unsuitable temporary accommodation.
Beth from Newport found herself in a vicious cycle with housing costs after her rent began creeping up.
The single mum of two is studying at university in a bid to create a better life for her children after fleeing an abusive relationship.
“I want to be a good tenant, but being a good mum comes first, and it’s been years since paying the rent in full and on time – without having to think about it – was normal,” she said.
She now lives in fear of her energy being shut off, and it means for her children, aged 12 and 14, there is little chance of expensive gifts under the Christmas tree.
“My children have been understanding and told me they don’t need anything,” she says. “The guilt attached to wanting to and not being able to is the worst feeling of all.”
She said she takes comfort in knowing it’s not just her.
“Of all my Christmases, this is the bleakest so far, but there is comfort in knowing I am not the only one feeling that,” she says.
“I am very blessed to have my children with me on my Christmas morning, being in a house and being able to put the kettle on – that’s a privilege compared to some.
“It’s going to be full of love – less presents, but more love.”
* Names have been changed