We should honour the true spirit of Christmas all year round

Written by Kate Shannon on 20 December 2016 in Comment

We’re conditioned to think of Christmas as a time of excess, but it does also often throw into sharp relief just how little some people have

Credit: A Christmas Carol

Every Christmas I like to re-read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It’s a tale which remains popular almost 150 years after it was first written and aside from the cracking story, every time I’m struck by how much of the social commentary still applies today.

Victorian Britain was a terrible place if you were poor and it is almost incomprehensible to think of a society where free education was not the norm and where there was no state aid for those in need.

At one point in the book Scrooge sees two small, wretched children hiding in one of the spirit’s robes. On asking who they are, the ghost replies: “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”


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It’s a powerful message and we might not have workhouses and a laissez-faire attitude to helping people like the Victorians, but as this special issue of Holyrood shows, poverty is still a huge problem in today’s society.

Inequality still affects millions of people across the UK. Low paid jobs, inadequate housing, poor educational attainment and health problems are all still issues our governments need to tackle. In Scotland, both men and women die earlier than those living in other parts of the UK. Children are still being born into poverty and many people still can’t afford to heat their homes. Food banks are now operating all over the country to provide for those who can’t afford to buy food.

Launching the Child Poverty Bill in the summer, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “It is simply unacceptable that children are growing up in poverty and we must do all we can to tackle the inequality that still exists in 21st century Scotland.”

Sturgeon is right, it is unacceptable. However, we all have a part to play, even if it’s just helping where we can and holding our politicians to account.

Christmas is a particularly poignant time of year. We’re all conditioned to think of it as a time of excess and while there’s nothing wrong with enjoying yourself and buying gifts, it does often throw into sharp relief just how little some people have. You only have to open a newspaper in December to read about some of the fantastic groups that help people during the holidays. One which stood out for me recently was Hibernian Football Club opening its doors on Christmas Day to those who might otherwise have nowhere to go. In an ideal world these worthy schemes would not be required, but, unfortunately, they are today and it looks likely they will be for some time.

There is no silver bullet to eradicate poverty, but perhaps we should take a leaf out of Scrooge’s book and honour the true spirit of Christmas in our hearts all year round. It couldn’t hurt.

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