CELEBRATING your child’s birthday by finally buying them that toy they’ve been yearning for is something many mums revel in.
But Destiny Shirkhani-Walton’s heart breaks every time her son’s birthday nears. Because the 23-year-old single mum from Bournemouth, Dorset, cannot afford to buy Ceejay anything.
“I am wracked with guilt, self-loathing and depression about it,” Destiny tells Fabulous. “A few weeks before his fourth birthday on May 6, I was chasing Ceejay around Lidl while doing the weekly food shop and my heart just sank when he discovered the toy section.
“He picked up a small Thomas The Tank Engine figurine, priced at £14.99, and said to me, ‘Please Mummy, I’ll be good. Can I please have it for my birthday? Just one thing’. He rarely asks for anything, but I couldn’t afford to buy it so I told him to put it back on the shelf.”
Rather than gifts, Destiny marked his birthday with a trip to the park and her mum brought him a small present and cake.
Destiny is faced with making tough choices daily while trying to do the best for her son. They sleep together in the same bedroom to keep heating costs down, and swap clothes with friends to ensure they have well-fitting items to wear.
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How YOU can support Fabulous’ Baby, Bank On Us campaign
– Give money by donating here or by scanning the QR code.
– Give clothing, toys and essentials to a baby bank, wherever you are in the UK.
– Give your time volunteering. To find your nearest baby bank, visit Littlevillagehq.org/uk-baby-banks.
“I’ve lost count of the number I’ve times I’ve had to wipe away my tears while out shopping with my son. It’s utterly heartbreaking,” she says.
“I regularly choose between buying a loaf of bread or topping up the electricity meter. The idea of a birthday party for Ceejay was completely out of the question, it would be too expensive.”
Throwing a children’s birthday party totals, on average, £320, according to a study by the UK’s leading money-saving brand, Voucher Cloud. Meanwhile, parents fork out an average of £175.80 on birthday presents.
“Those figures might as well be in the millions, they are so out of reach for me,” says Destiny. “I know whenever I pop to the shops, I’ll be scraping pennies together just to buy milk.”
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Sadly, being able to treat Ceejay isn’t something new. “I speak from experience. Last Christmas I couldn’t afford presents for him. Even small stocking fillers in the poundshop were out of my budget.
“My mum has been a lifesaver. I asked her not to spend any money on me and just to buy Ceejay a couple of things. That way I didn’t have to explain why Santa hadn’t been. In the lead up, I’d wake up in cold sweats worried about him having nothing to open. I’m already terrified about this coming Christmas.”
Destiny says she has no savings, doesn’t drink or smoke, and doesn’t get her hair or nails done.
She adds: “I’m not complaining; I am a grafter. I just know so many mums and dads like me are living in single-parent poverty and feel ashamed to admit it.
I am wracked with guilt, self-loathing and depression about it
“It’s 2023 and as a single mum I can’t afford to top up my electricity meter, buy enough food to ensure I eat three times a day and buy my son presents. Sometimes I have less than a pound to get me through the week.”
An exclusive poll of 2,000 mums for Fabulous’ Baby, Bank On Us campaign found that 15% can’t afford to buy their children birthday presents this year, while 35% can’t afford to throw a party.
Sixty-eight percent believe the cost-of-living crisis has had a detrimental effect on their mental health, while 60% say they have trouble sleeping because of money worries.
Former care worker Destiny fell pregnant with Ceejay in September 2018. “I was over the moon but Ceejay’s father is not involved with his care. I don’t receive any maintenance from him,” she says.
I regularly choose between buying a loaf of bread or topping up the electricity meter
“I had to quit work to care for him. I didn't have maternity leave and because of childcare costs had to claim Universal Credit. Since then, I have been trying to find part-time work. Ceejay is now in nursery school three days a week for five hours a day, which is the amount every child aged three gets for free.”
Destiny would love to work – but she’s struggling to find flexible employment. “If I go full-time I won't earn enough to pay for his full-time nursery and I don't have any family who can care for him for free. It’s a terrible catch 22 situation,” she says.
What are baby banks?
– Baby banks provide essential items for babies and young children whose parents are living in poverty – including nappies, wipes, clothing, bedding, Moses baskets, cots, blankets, toys and books.
– There are over 200 baby banks in the UK, and they run out of shops, community centres, warehouse units and even people’s living rooms and garages.
– Last year 4.2 million children in the UK were living in poverty and 800,000 children lived in a household that used a food or baby bank.
“I do charity work to show my son about giving back. It also adds to my resume skills. I’m constantly applying for jobs in care work. I do a maths course once a week and next month I begin a teaching assistant course. After that I hope to be accepted to a trainee nurse program.
“I hate being on Universal Credit and want to make my little boy proud by becoming a nurse.”
I hate being on Universal Credit and want to make my little boy proud by becoming a nurse
Destiny gets by on £1250 a month universal credit, which is made up of a housing allowance, jobseeker’s allowance and child benefit. She pays £850 rent for a two-bedroom flat and has cut her food bill to £100 a month.
“My energy and council tax bill has gone up, as have my food bills. My Universal Credit is set to be adjusted in line with inflation but it’s hard to make ends meet,” she says.
“There are days when I don't eat or have one meal a day so Ceejay has food and heating. It’s a sacrifice I am happy to make but it’s wearing me down.
“To ensure I kept the lights on this summer, I have had to rely on a National Energy Action charity. You take the £140 voucher to the shops, and they put it directly onto the electric meter. I also received a £100 Household Support Fund grant.”
Destiny has also had to visit a local food bank three times in the last six months, and says a baby bank would be a lifesaver.
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“I can’t find a baby bank near me but I’m going to keep looking. If I could be gifted toys for Ceejay, that would be amazing,” she says. “I could donate them back when he’s outgrown them to help other families.
“The sense of feeling stuck and in a downward spiral is something many families now face. No mum should ever feel the pain of not being able to give their child a birthday present.”
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