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.

DSCN4240

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.

Despair has set in

To tell the truth I don’t know if the £53 figure bandied around is for one person or a family. After my last blog about this when I saw in black and white how much my weekly outgoings were just on what I consider essentials (including cable and internet) I got a bit down. When I saw what our income would be if we were dependent on benefits compared to this figure the truth hit home. And I got a bit depressed because if my husband lost his job tomorrow, we would have to make some drastic changes to our lifestyle. Add to this all the Margaret Thatcher stuff in the media and I was well and truly fighting off the Black Dog. I thought it wise therefore not to attempt to blog (although I did draft some random thoughts about sausages).

Because I was in a grump, I lost the shopping receipt for Wednesday.  I know I bought peppers and some Creme Fraiche and the bill was about £5. No idea what else was purchased (which illustrates how shopping can become a mindless activity and why tracking your spending is a useful if painful exercise). I made fajitas using these ingredients plus items from the freezer and store cupboard. I use a fajita kit which is the nearest we get to a ready meal in this house, yet once you add up the cost of the ingredients it comes to about £8 for feed three people, which is not cheap. This meal may be coming off the meal plan.

Thursday we had a French student arrive to stay with us for three months, who will be sharing some meals with us. This will inevitably add to my overall shopping bill. I am still not sure how to divide the costs, but as I like spreadsheets I may have a play at dividing food, overheads, luxuries and clothing, depending on how I feel of course. You can see that I need a distraction from other more important tasks. Like sorting 30 bags of clothing and filling in tax forms.

This was my Thursday shop:

Water 1.99
broccoli 0.79
oranges 1.49
grapefruit 0.29
tomatoes 1.29
mushrooms 0.85
leeks 0.89
sweetcorn 0.32
single cream 0.69
double cream 0.85
pork steaks 2.69
12.14

I had previously noted that we seemed to be lacking in fruit in our diet and the French Boy said he liked fruit for breakfast so this seemed to be a reason to ensure there was more fruit in the house. As it was his first meal with use I did go a bit overboard with the supper making pork chops with mushrooms and cream (the first thing Delia Smith taught me to cook) with some vegetables and used up some potatoes and onions in a Pan Haggerty recipe I got from The Bearwood Pantry. It was really lovely and there are plenty of leftovers for lunches. Seven meals (as I also used up two pork steaks from the freezer). Total for the ingredients was £8.26 which is £1.18 per portion. Not bad even if I say so myself, as it really was very tasty and seemed luxurious.

What has struck me is that the seemingly luxury meal cost a lot less than the supposedly cheap and cheerful option. A bit more work went into it, I am not sure that double cream is a healthy option for every day, yet no packet was opened in the making of this supper. That is a good thing, yes?

The IDS £53 bandwagon and the legacy of the Thatcher years

Seems I am not the only one blogging or bragging about being able to live on £53 a week. Just read this article in the Express and Star. Hmmm I don’t think he really gets it. Blagging meals from parents and not counting the cost of living on leftovers. Or taking bills etc into account. Ah well, if it sells papers. In the old days they would be tomorrows chip paper, but there are rules about that sort of thing now.

Poor man he had to downshift from Waitrose to Aldi. I feel his pain, I really do.

As I mentioned yesterday I needed to look at how much all my other expenses are and I am shocked. £170 per week. That is with mortgage, gas, electric, water, household insurance and car insurance, cable, phone and internet. I have not even factored in the cost of having a car serviced and MOT’d. I can’t see any way of cutting back except that the cable and internet would have to be considered a luxury. I couldn’t afford to go out to see a film and I couldn’t watch the telly box. If I got rid of the cable service I would have to have a free view box or something to continue to be able to watch any tv. I can get free internet at the library (while we still have them) or at a cafe, although I would have to buy a coffee of course.

That £170 divided by three adults is £56.67 each. so if we were all on Job Seekers Allowance for instance this is what our income would be:

Contribution-based JSA

You can only get contribution-based JSA for 182 days (approximately 6 months). After this, you may be able to get income-based JSA.

Age Weekly amount
16 to 24 £56.80
25 or over £71.70

A household income of just over £200.

or this

Income-based JSA

Status Weekly amount
Single (under 25) £56.80
Single (25 or over) £71.70
Couples (both aged 18 or over) £112.55
Lone parent (18 or over) £71.70
Lone parent (under 18) £56.80

Given those figures the car would have to go and we would have to live on nasty sausages, plastic bread and lentils. I may have to steal from supermarket bins. My only entertainment would be books (thank goodness for the library) and because we couldn’t afford to heat the house it would be bed by 8pm.

How could you even afford clothes? What would happen if you had an interview and didn’t have a suit?

We wouldn’t have to pay council tax, but as we have a mortgage we wouldn’t get housing benefit. There may be other benefits we could claim, yet from this month a Benefit Cap is being introduced:

The level of the cap will be:

  • £500 a week for couples (with or without children living with them)
  • £500 a week for single parents whose children live with them
  • £350 a week for single adults who don’t have children, or whose children don’t live with them

More information about benefits can be found here.

So Iain Duncan Smith, I would love to see you and your wife living on £500 per week, but then you don’t pay a mortgage or rent a house, because you married a rich mans daughter. You get paid much more than the minimum wage and claim more in expenses than most people earn.

What happens if we all eventually get a job and are only offered the minimum wage?

The National Minimum Wage rate per hour depends on your age and whether you’re an apprentice – you must be at least school leaving age to get it.

Year 21 and over 18 to 20 Under 18 Apprentice*
2012 (current rate) £6.19 £4.98 £3.68 £2.65
2011 £6.08 £4.98 £3.68 £2.60
2010 £5.93 £4.92 £3.64 £2.50

How much you really need to live on? If you lost your job tomorrow what would you cut back on? Could you pay your mortgage?

This has been a very humbling and shocking experience. And I am even more cross now that the tax payers are having to pay for an overblown funeral for Margaret Thatcher,  a woman who got us into this mess in the first place. There, I have said it. I won’t watch the funeral of a millionaire who died at the Ritz. Most of us will die, like my mom did, in an NHS Ward or a smelly care home, because we can’t afford a really good one, neglected by those who were paid to care for us. Neglected because the care workers are on a minimum wage, have too many visits to make in a day and worried that they won’t be able to afford to put petrol in the car they need to do their job.

I am sure I have upset some care workers and Thatcherites. Here’s the thing. I don’t care! And neither does this government.