Why did you Live Below the Line?

This week many of you reading this will have participated in Live Below the Line or know of someone who has. The challenge is to live on £1 per day for all food and drink. Some are living on nasty value sausages, cheap bread and forgoing tea and milk. Others, who are more used to eating well on a budget, have had a much more healthy and varied diet. Many are tweeting and blogging about it. Some are good, such as A Year Without Supermarkets and some are dire. I won’t name and shame them.

I am not participating. Not because I don’t care about those that have no choice to live on less than a quid a day, it is because I think the message about food poverty is being lost. There are millions in the world who live below the line every day including people in developed countries such as the USA and the UK. Thousands in the UK are now relying on food banks. Read how this happens to educated, hardworking people here.

I am already bored with reading tweets about how LBLers miss caffeine, withdrawal is kicking in or that going without butter is such a hardship. They chose to do this, for five days. Others have no choice and live like this for five weeks of five months. Most LBLers still have a roof over their head and can afford a smart phone that enables them to tweet every sip of water. What is more they are digitally engaged enough to know how to. People in poverty are often not digital natives. Yet when universal credit rolls out, applications have to be made on line. No job, no PC, where do you go to register then? Library, ah, the one that has been closed or has reduced hours because of budget cuts. Who is going to help you to register and claim?  Library staff? Those too have been reduced? Are you sure you want a complete stranger to see your personal financial information?

Great, raise money by living below the line. But get angry too.

Get angry about food poverty. When supermarkets throw food away and carrots are rejected for not being perfectly straight.

Get angry that over 400 people died in a fire in Bangladesh. A factory that makes cheap clothing so the all consuming First Worlders can have new top to go out in on Friday night. The people who died would be living below the line despite having jobs. They will have children who are now possibly orphans and homeless and hungry. That t shirt for a fiver costs more than those that died making it had to feed themselves on. How does that make you feel?

Get angry.

The £53 test results are in!

At the beginning of April I decided to track our spending for the month. Like many others I was pretty angry after Iain Duncan Smith claimed he could live on £53 per week ‘if he had to’. Lots of other people did the experiment for a week, journos mainly, to sell papers. They boasted how they blagged meals from friends and relatives to make ends meet and how tough it was not to have a pint after work. They didn’t do it for a month, or take into account all the other things most of us have to pay for, such as heat, light, council tax, rent or a mortgage. I did, and I kept a record for 30 days.

I also pledged to buy local for all my groceries. I don’t have access to a car most of the week, I therefore walk to my local high street, buying only what I can carry. I like to support independent traders yet as we do not have a green grocers, I buy most of my vegetables from the Aldi Super 6 to keep down costs.

Sad person that I am I entered everything we spent on food, pet food (we have two cats and two chickens) toiletries, cleaning products, fuel for the car, clothes and incidentals such as the overwhelming need my husband had for a new sat nav!

This was not an experiment to see if it was possible to live on £53 a week. I just wanted to see what we spent and on what.

On food shopping (excluding any eating out but including the traditional Friday chips) I spent £290. That works out at £3.23 per person per day for three adults. I haven’t factored in that I have also been providing half board for the French Student for 16 days, that sometimes The Lodger eats with us (once or twice a week), my daughter was here for a weekend and that the Bulgarian Student joined us in homemade pizza night once this month. I could go back to my spread sheet and do the math but I am not that sad. A guesstimate therefore is that the average spend on food per person is £2.70 per day.

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Our other essentials, such as mortgage, bills, and diesel for the car I calculated at £170. Pet food is £30. There were other bits and bobs I bought such as some pillows, a jug and some weighing scales, the sat nav and some clothes totalling £30. All in all my rounded up figure for April is £510. For 3 people that is just under £170 per week per person. And I have just realised that I haven’t counted the big spend last weekend on going to the cinema, lunch afterwards and the take out curry! 

It seems that this family cannot live on £53 per week. Taking out the spending on luxuries such as the sat nav, clothes and the bits and bobs reduces living costs to £116. We would have to drastically change our eating habits, not have an open fire, turn off the heating and lose the cable and internet if, like IDS, we had to. 

I consider myself lucky, I don’t have to. I hope I never will have to. This blog by A Girl Called Jack was recommended to me. Read it. Have some tissues ready. And count your blessings.