Two-thirds of adults are worried that they will not be able to afford Christmas dinner, according to a survey.
The survey, commissioned by the Salvation Army, calculated the cost of Christmas dinner at £7.50 per head but – as the price of food is continuing to rise – the cost has increased since the survey was carried out on 22 October.
The concern is greater among those aged 65 and over – 81% – and those in the east of England – 80%.
Some 16% are planning to use a food bank to get items for their meal, while 38% are likely to skip meals if they have an unexpected expense such as a broken boiler.
The Salvation Army’s Lieutenant Colonel Dean Pallant said: “Christmas should be the season of joy, not sorrow.
“If so many people are worried they can’t even afford one of the most important meals of the year, it’s a red flag that poverty is creeping further into our communities.”
The poll also found that 14% of people cannot afford to buy their children a present this Christmas, and 18% expect to spend time in a building that is free to visit – just so they can keep warm.
Lt Col Pallant said measures announced in the autumn statement show the government is trying to help, but “its ability to stop the creep of poverty has been dangerously reduced due to rising inflation and the overall bleak economic outlook”.
He continued: “We expect this Christmas to be one of our busiest ever and are providing as many emergency food parcels as possible for those in urgent need and Christmas dinner for isolated older people.
“And our Present Appeal is giving gifts to children who would otherwise have nothing to open on Christmas Day.
“We also offer a warm space in many of our buildings to people who can’t afford to heat their homes and will support rough sleepers so they aren’t forced to spend a cold Christmas on the streets.”
In October, figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that almost half of UK adults were finding it difficult to afford energy bills, rent, or mortgage payments.
This comes against a background of tax hikes and inflation that is rapidly outpacing wages.
John, a 64-year-old grandfather and volunteer worker from Middlesbrough, told the Salvation Army survey: “I usually go to relatives for Christmas dinner, but they can’t afford to have me this year so I will stay at home.
“I am going to treat it like a normal day and have sandwiches for lunch as I’m worried it will cost too much to buy the food and cook it.
“It is going to be a terrible Christmas for me.”
A government spokeswoman said: “We recognise people are struggling with rising prices which is why we’re protecting millions of the most vulnerable households through our £37bn package of support, including at least £1,200 of direct payments and saving households an average of £900 on their energy bills this winter, in addition to £150 of extra support for disabled people and £300 per household for pensioners.
“Vulnerable families in England are being supported by the government’s Household Support Fund – which was boosted by £500m – to help pay for essentials.”