Over 20,000 Northern Ireland kids facing a cold and hungry Christmas: children's charity
Two children in every primary class in Northern Ireland are facing Christmas without warmth or fresh food, a leading charity has warned.
Action for Children said some of the youngest children were at particular risk of missing out on the basics.
More than 20,000 under-10s from low-income families here face a festive season with little to celebrate, lacking essentials such as a heated home, warm winter coat or fresh food.
Across the UK, meanwhile, almost one million under-10s from low-income families face hardship at Christmas.
With so many families struggling following a decade of austerity and ongoing problems with Universal Credit, new research from the charity shows parents below the breadline are able to spend an average of just £2 a day per child on food.
They also struggle to afford nutritious food vital for health and development.
With no free school meals available during the school holidays, many worse off families struggle to feed their children.
With a typical primary school meal in the UK costing £2.30, parents can barely afford to pay for lunch, let alone breakfast and dinner.
Action for Children Northern Ireland interim director Ruth-Ann Delijah said the figures should embarrass the authorities into taking action.
"No parent should have to face the awful prospect of their youngster sitting in the cold without a plate of food to eat at the end of a school day, or skip dinner themselves so their child has a meal," she added.
"Politicians are telling us austerity has ended, but every day at Action for Children our frontline services say child poverty levels are at the worst they can remember.
"While some families will spend the Christmas holidays putting their children to bed early to keep warm because they can't afford to heat the house, for others it has become the norm not have a winter coat, to rely on foodbanks, or for their children to miss out on hot meals.
"The next government must deliver ambitious policies to end child poverty and bring in a national childhood strategy to give all our children a safe and happy childhood.
"Until every family has enough money to keep their child warm and well fed, we will continue to help them.
"That's why we're asking the public to get behind our Secret Santa campaign to help us support our most vulnerable children, not just at Christmas but every day."
Become a Secret Santa to support vulnerable children by texting CHILD to 70607 to donate £10 or by visiting iamsanta.org.uk