Life on a pound a day. #Livebelowtheline

A couple of years ago I blogged about a charity to challenge to live on a pound a day for food and drink. At the time I thought it was a fascinating challenge, and a worthwhile way to raise the profile of the issue of global poverty.
money on a spoon

Now, I’m not so sure.

This article from BBC business on how to live healthily for £1 a day is part of the problem.

For example:

Did you know you can buy an egg for just 8.7p? It may not be an ethical egg, and of course you have to buy 30 to get that price.

Um. 30 * 8.7 is 2.61. You can’t buy a single egg for 8.7p – or I’ve never found any shops doing that. And the point of this is supposed to be a realistic experience of what living on £1 is like. You can’t go out and do your usual shopping and then price it up all up piece by piece. (4p for a slice of lettuce??) It’s cheaper to buy in bulk, but if you’re poor you can’t do that. Or if you do bulk buy one thing, you get to bulk eat one thing. Did the author of this BBC post really not understand any of this?

I’ve seen this kind of experience described as poverty tourism, and it’s not far off the point of what is going on. In the UK at the moment, with the drive towards austerity, there’s this theory that people in poverty are just spending their money on the wrong things. If they managed it better, they could live better. So you’ve got IDS with his throwaway comment, of course he could live on £53 a week.

Of course he could. For a week. But repeatedly? When things start to break and wear out? When your children grow out of their shoes, or wear through their clothes?

No. It’s difficult. Very difficult. And yes, if you can find work and earn more, then you can spend more. But all around the world, there are inequalities that mean all of this is very difficult to change. And I’m not convinced it’s going to be changed by a whole load of people living on a pound a day for food in this country.

But if it raises the issue for discussion? And we make real changes? That might make a difference. So for that reason I do overall still support the campaign. And if you’re looking for a way to stretch your budget? You could do worse than checking out a few blogs. Utterly scrummy does fabulous family meal plans on a tight budget. The bbc linked to A Girl called Jack, a new blog to me which I’ll be perusing.

Or you can try my budget menu for bolognese and burgers. This fed my family of six for two nights.

800g budget mince from Lidl/ Aldi (approx £2.49).
Onions (around 60/70 pence a bag).
Tin chopped tomatoes (31p)
Passata (29p)
Bread rolls for the burgers (12 for £1.10 Lidl.)
Spaghetti or pasta of choice (around 50p pack in Lidl).
An egg. (Lidl 98p for 6 free range. Aldi do 15 for 2.29).
Good sprinkling of dried herbs (49p a pot in Lidl.)

I used 500g of mince with two minced onions and an egg to bind them together. This made approx ten burgers served in bread rolls which fed our family of six very well.

The next night I put the remaining mince in with the tomatoes and passata and made it into bolognese with addition of dried herbs. Cheese to top it off is nice but optional.

Budget if I’m adding up right comes to £5.65 for two meals each feeding 6. That’s 47p a head. It’s rather low on fruit and veg, I’d suggest adding some of that in – I did chuck in a bag of salad from Lidl at £1 to go with the burgers.

I hope you’ve found that helpful. Do you think this kind of campaign is helpful, or could it cause more problems than it solves?

About Jax Blunt

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  1. I personally think this is a good campaign, but there will always be people who make you inclined to bang your (or preferably, their) head against a wall, or desk. I participated last year and it has certainly made me more aware and mindful. No, doing it is not going to solve world poverty issues but it’s a positive little step in that direction.

  2. “You can’t go out and do your usual shopping and then price it up all up piece by piece.” <- That's exactly what I was thinking when I read the article. It's not living on £1 per day if you're spending far more than that. Is the £1 per day adjusted for value globally? I mean, is it £1 in a country where £1 buys you a lot more than in the UK? That's what I never get about these campaigns, are we comparing like with like?! The whole "I can live on £x per week" just annoys me – years ago I watched one of those programs where they sort someone's budget out because they're spending ridiculous amounts of money, and in the one I watched the guy stuck to his budget for one week because his friends bought him drinks etc. That's not really sustainable over a long period… Not sure what I'm saying other than agreeing with you again!

    • Jax Blunt says:

      You’re absolutely right about the comparing like with like – I’m not at all convinced we are. And I forgot to put anything in about that, so I think what you’re saying is extremely useful 🙂

    • The £1 a day figure is calculated based on spending power. Obviously with any “globalised” calculation like that the figures are very much open to question, but it’s not a case of £1 worth of food here but you could actually buy a lavish feast in poorer countries.

  3. One school lunch is £2 a day so we are knackered from the start unless I could convince him to have a packed lunch for a week. Our lifestyle in general does not lend itself to such frugal meals, packed teas twice a week would be very difficult to do on less than a pound per person for a whole day. Ditto buying soya milk for the boys or GF stuff for OH. I agree completely that the BBC article missed the point (and by filling up on bread and pasta they are just setting up the next headline of “poor people do have enough to eat because they are all obese”) and it just isn’t that easy. I will be reading the Gibsons blog to see how they do but honestly, I don’t think it will solve much. Those who are already aware will still think it an abomination to expect people to live on £1 a day, those who aren’t won’t care.

    • Jax Blunt says:

      That’s a bit depressing to think, but you’re probably right. Will have a look at that link though, thanks for popping it in.

      • That’s us (linked to)! We’re not green about the complexities of global poverty issues, and us living on £1 a day for 5 days is not going to change the world. However it’s a useful reflective exercise for us as a family. We’ll be sharing some thoughts via the blog on the compromises it has involved as well as some of the areas where we know it’s unrealistic. I did wonder about doing it “publicly” like this because it could be seen as drawing attention to ourselves, and we really aren’t doing anything fantastic. However I think by sharing our experience we may help people we know think through some of the issues. Hopefully people will find it provokes thought, if some people find it pointless then so be it, that’s true of every effort to work towards a better world – you can always find a critic for attempt to go green, support charity, change government etc. IMO the Live Below the Line Campaign is probably more a force for good than harm though.

        • Jax Blunt says:

          I popped over and checked you out, great blog.

          As a family exercise I would imagine it’s extremely thought provoking. I discuss this kind of thing with my older children frequently. I think doing it publicly for the reasons you’ve stated is perfectly worthwhile. I guess I’m wondering about the headlines though. Thanks for stopping by.

          • I sometimes wonder if the headline writers even read the articles! In the BBC piece in the conclusion the writer highlights that he has had insufficient calories across the 5 days, and that it was an artificial exercise. The headline is certainly misleading (and unhelpful especially with all the clap-trap being spouted by politicians).

          • Jax Blunt says:

            it wasn’t just the headline was it though? Suggestion about the eggs was within the article, and just isn’t what I’d understand the challenge to be.

        • Martin, I don’t find it pointless and I am really interested in how you do, I just don’t think that the concept in general will raise awareness in the wider community. Good luck 🙂

  4. I tend to think if people show that it can be done, then the government may well cease upon this idea to cut benefits even further. But then I am an old cynic. I think the BBC totally missed the point as well, there are lots of things which people can do to reduce their costs in other areas of life. However, a decent diet with good quality food should not be one of them, think of the knock on effect on the NHS in the future etc etc. Also add onto this the cost of the gas/ electric to cook the food! Great blog Jax!

  5. To be honest the campaign made me feel a bit uneasy–does it raise awareness/attention? Yes. Do I really believe Ben Affleck is going to understand what it’s like to live below the poverty line after it? No. You can complete the challenge but you know that at the end of the week you’re going back to your regular diet and you are doing the challenge in your own comfy home in your comfy clothes with your comfy luxuries. Not all that realistic right?

    • Jax Blunt says:

      Didn’t Ben Affleck start out rather less rich than he is now? Or am I just making that up?

      No, it’s not realistic. And my problem is that actually, you could get people who do the challenge, either honestly, or rather more like the BBC bloke, and who then think, well that was easy, benefits are obviously set much too high if you can live on that much. And that’s dangerous.

  6. Your articles really make me think. We had a period when we were first a family of four where our entire shopping budget was £50 for a week – that had to include nappies, cleaning products, any new clothes etc the children needed. It lasted a year and was very, very hard, and stressful.
    Now we’re lucky that because I’m working our budget is higher – but we learned a lot of important lessons about being careful with our money during that period and we still are. We source our ingredients carefully, we now keep chickens for our own eggs (of which we eat a LOT) and we tend to only eat meat once or twice a week as that’s so expensive.
    I think thinking these kinds of projects through is helpful to families and learning to be careful with your budget is important for children as they grow up to go into the world on their own – but I’m not sure the BBC journalist understood, or will ever understand, that this is the whole budget – not what you can break your ordinary budget down into.
    We had a lot of people when things were tight telling us that they only spent £50 a week – but that was for their supermarket shop, and didn’t include their veg box, their trip to the butcher, their cleaning products or clothing/birthday/christmas budgets. So was in fact nothing like their budget at all.

    • Jax Blunt says:

      That must have been utterly exhausting. We’re a bit above that at the moment, but I’m watching every penny closely as we hope that our business takes off.

  7. Some good points jax think it is a good idea for everyone every once in a while to really look at their spending and cut back to basic s but yes this isn’t realistic but ti is attention grabbing

  8. Whenever it’s the BBC I think ‘well – it is television’! And they have other agendas than the good of the people I think (sorry for the cynicism). It’s fine living on a pound a day – most could do it. Most though, after having lived like this for years and we’ll be doing so well into the future, will find it more depressing than fine, especially when the politicians who make the decisions about benefits will have NO idea what the longer term poverty they’re inflicting on others is like!

  9. I think its a hard task .

    It should really depend on a families budget with their income & outgoings.

    There should be more campaigns on frugal living ie recipes with the occasional factoring in of the odd treat.

  10. If you shopped on the basis that *1 a day for a family of 6 is *42 a week, your *2.61 would be well spent giving everyone an egg 5 times per week. We are a family of 2 however so we only have (theoretically) *14 to spend for the week. We could not afford the 30 egg bargain and I wouldn’t want us to eat 15 eggs a week each. i suppose eggs can last for two weeks in the fridge but it’s not ideal. And a single person would only have *7 to spend for the week – they’d turn into a chicken.

  11. as I understand it, its an awareness campaign, and thats what its doing, reminds me of the 24 hour fasts we did at school to raise money for 3rd world countries. Of course once its done, you go back to your ‘normal’ whatever that might be! Personally I would struggle to live on £1 per day, I think most people would, even for 5 days it would be very hard :/ I dont know what the answer is, everything is very mixed up, no one wants to help anyone else, its very grim.

    • Jax Blunt says:

      Is that true? No one wants to help anyone else? Actually, I think that people do want to help, but we’re almost being told by the politicians and the media that we don’t. There’s an awful lot of misinformation out there.

  12. You could make your recipe above even cheaper by replacing the passata with a mug of water and two tablespoons of tomato puree (which is cheap if you buy the tubes and lasts for months in the fridge) – every penny counts, right? 😉

  13. Fab discussion Jax!

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