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The orgy that is Christmas spending

We'd heard all about the Xboxes, the karaoke machines, the televisions, the new boots, guitars and bikes. It was Jade's turn.

"Make-up," she whispered.

"What else?" demanded Kevin, still wearing all his designer gear and sporting the gold chain.

"Socks." Jade's head was down, and I was furious with myself for letting the conversation begin and for not recognising her discomfort.

Britain has, I believe, the highest debts in Europe, alongside the reputation for the most abortions and most drunkenness. The money for Jade's Christmas will have gone on Mum's drug habit but, looking round that motley crew, most of their presents would have been nicked or bought through the "clubby" book - with high prices, horrendous credit charges and no choice.

My boys are grown up now, so the desperate need I once felt to give them what they wanted has tapered off. But I can remember the anxiety I felt, the desire for them to be like the others and the crushing worry in January - and I had a good income.

I hear the banks intend to charge customers who earn less than pound;15,000 a year. I know that if you have access to the internet and a bank card you can buy loads of things more cheaply than in shops. If you can pay bills by direct debit, you get a discount. The system is geared to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

With the emphasis on material goods, on having what you want now and sod the consequences, and with the line between the "haves" and "have nots" growing ever greater, working folk have a belief that those on benefits are getting loads of cash. Those who "have" seem to think they are being cheated by the "have nots". They're not, believe me.

The reality is too many kids live below the poverty line, without adequate food, clothes, and accommodation. Because they are much loved, their parents will slide deeper into debt to make it a decent Christmas.

Jade is a mum now, her young face aged too soon, and she'll be buying presents she can ill afford.

Christmas is a magical time, but the pressure is on to make it ever bigger and better. Does it have to be such an orgy of spending?

Penny Ward teaches at Carnoustie High

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