headaches and toast – living on £18 a week

3 04 2013

I came across this today, and am posting it because it is encouraging that MPs are taking this seriously, even if it is not making any difference. On the Hansard you can read transcript of debates in Parliament, and here is a report from Helen Goodman MP, who decided to try living on £18/week during the recent parliamentary recess. I think it makes interesting reading for those of us who are so financially removed from the poorest in our society.   

Helen Goodman MP

“I was so shocked when I read what my constituents wrote to me about the implications for them of the bedroom tax, and about how little they would have left to live on, that I decided during the week of the recent recess to see if I could survive on £18 a week, which is what they will be left with to buy their food after 1 April. That figure of £18 is entirely based on the experiences of my constituents, in particular women on employment and support allowance who are about the same age as me, but who had to stop working owing to chronic health conditions, perhaps after 20 years of working life. Out of their £71.70, they have to find £10 for electricity, £20 for heating—gas or coal—£6 for water rates, £4 for bus fares in the case of those who live in villages and have to get to the main town, and £10 for the bedroom tax, which left them with £23 for weekly living expenses.

That £23 has to cover more than food, of course. We did a calculation, and set aside £5 for all the non-food things everyone has to buy—soap, washing powder, washing-up liquid, toothpaste, loo paper—plus a small amount in order to save £50 a year for clothes or a pair of trainers, or in case the iron breaks. That leaves £18.

I therefore took up the challenge of trying to live on £18, and I want to tell Members what it is like. It is extremely unpleasant. I had porridge for breakfast every morning, as I usually do, but I make my porridge with milk; now I was making it with water. I had to eat the same food over and over and over again. Single people are hit particularly hard, because cheap food comes in big packs. I made a stew at the beginning of the week, and I ate the same food four nights a week. I had pasta twice a week. I had baked potatoes. I had eggs on six occasions. It was completely impossible to have meat or fish; that was out of the question. It was also impossible to have five portions of fruit and vegetables a week.

I therefore also have a message for the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), who is responsible for public health. She was criticising people on low incomes for obesity. Of course people on low incomes are more likely to have that problem; they have to fill up on toast and biscuits.

I found myself waking up in the middle of the night absolutely ravenous, having to make cups of tea and eat biscuits. I had a headache for five days in that week, and I was completely lethargic and exhausted by 4 pm. Some people are on jobseeker’s allowance and are looking for a job. Looking for a job is a job in itself; it takes time and energy. The people whom DWP Ministers want to do workfare are being expected to work 30 hours a week, yet they are not going to have enough to eat properly.

Most shocking of all was the fact that come Sunday I ran out of food—there was literally nothing left to eat that night. If Ministers are happy with the notion that 660,000 of our fellow citizens are literally not going to have enough to eat by the end of the week, all I can say is that I pity them because they have no pity and no conception of what they are going to do to the people in our constituencies who will be faced with this bedroom tax.

The Minister has been very free and easy in talking about all these wonderful alternatives, such as the fact that people can move. In my constituency more than 1,000 people will be affected by the bedroom tax, but there are fewer than 100 smaller properties to which they could move. In my constituency, it is not possible for all these people to increase the number of hours they work, as seven people are chasing every job; people are in part-time work because they cannot get full-time work. Government Members have shown their complete ignorance of the benefits system by saying, “You just have to work a couple of hours a week on the minimum wage.” Of course that is not true, because these people would get then into the tapers and the disregards, and their benefits would be cut or they might find themselves paying tax. The numbers simply do not add up.

Of course some individuals or couples have properties that are larger than they need, but the so-called under-occupancy is in one part of the country and the overcrowding is in another. It simply is not credible to suggest that all the large, over-occupying families in London will move up to Durham, particularly given that the unemployment rate there is more than 9%. What would they be moving to? What would they be moving for?

I made a video diary of my week, so I got a lot of feedback from people affected by this policy. Interestingly, they said, “Yes, this is the reality of our lives. We are not able to survive properly now and things are going to get worse to the tune of £10 a week from 1 April.” In 2006, I did the same experiment under the previous Labour Government, living on benefits to see what life was like for young people on the lowest rate of income support. I found that difficult, but there was enough money to get through the whole week. I wish to point out to the Minister that we have reached a new low, because the £21 that people had in 2006 is equivalent to £28 now, and that should be compared with the £18 with which people are going to be expected to feed themselves.

The Minister has made much, too, of the discretionary housing benefits, which many hon. Members have questioned. In County Durham, £5 million of income will be taken out of people’s pockets and out of the local economy. The size of the discretionary fund is half a million pounds, so once again there is a huge gap between actual need and the resources being given to people to deal with it.

Many hon. Members have pointed out the unfairness of the policy for people who are disabled and need to sleep separately, be they adults or children; people who have children in the Army; foster carers; and separated parents. This policy is a fundamental attack on the poorest people in this country. People are going to lose between £500 and £1,000 over the course of next year, through no fault of their own. But the really disgusting thing is that on the same day that the bedroom tax is being introduced millionaires are being given a tax cut that will be worth £1,000—not over the year as a whole, but every single week.”

This is copied directly from Hansard, beginning at 27th Feb 2013 5.36pm

So let’s not be taken in by arguments about fairness. Current benefit changes are not fair; and not the ‘not fair’ of the whining child who hates to lose a sweet or the ‘not fair’ of the CEO being challenged about his right to a several million pound bonus he has ‘earned’; it’s the ‘not fair’ of the working poor and the non-working poor who are unfairly bearing the brunt of these cuts and literally have nothing – nothing – to fall back on. 



38 responses

3 04 2013
Could you live on £53 a week? | Chris Kidd

[…] of the figures I have seen quoted are not acceptable for individuals and families to live on.  Kevin pointed out the Hansard recording of a report from Helen Goodman MP, who decided to try living on […]

4 04 2013

Thanks for posting this. Yet again, it’s the have-nots who are being hit hardest.

4 04 2013
Amanda Miller

I find it refreshing that we have an MP who actually realises what the real world is like. I work long and hard hours just to survive and each day/week there is something else to pay out on. I dont buy clothes I rely on family giving me their hand-me-downs (for which I am very grateful). I struggle to pay bills and am in arrears with council tax, water and rent. I cant afford to put my heating on sometimes so wrap up in a sleeping bag on the sofa at night or go to bed to keep warm.

4 04 2013
Jennie Rose

Am worried, scared, frightened, concerned for my daughter, my son in law and my 3 year old grandson. My son in law works incredibly hard and yet they are beginning to drown in debt. Half his wages instantly go on rent to a private landlord. No chance of social housing, thousands on the waiting list. It is making me so very upset and angry. How long will it be before we see whole families homeless on the streets? One point not often mentioned – how are people on the breadline supposed to afford to move house?

4 04 2013

Tell him to paint himself brown, speak with a polish/romanian accent and go back to the welfare office. job done.

5 04 2013
jack payne

bigoted assumption these cuts affect everyone whatever their creed colour or country of origin

10 05 2013

Appalling! – you have no idea. Wake up to the real world not the one peopled with negative sterotypes that have no basis in truth.

4 04 2013

Load of bollocks. Try justifying this as a hard life in comparison to the majority of of the world. People in this country don’t know the meaning of a hard living, this certainly isn’t it.

4 04 2013

(a) so what?
(b) try it yourself.
(c) that it is worse elsewhere (largely as a direct result of the same processes which make it bad here) is utterly irrelevant to the question of acceptability and morality here.
(d) (just a thought) try engaging brain before typing?

4 04 2013

So, all this is lies? This lady did not make this experiment and has lied about her experience? She lies about what she hears, first hand, from her constituents? You go round thinking people are liars? Just because other countries (majority?) have different hard living experiences and aren’t hit by these particular and specific to this country hardships, you are willing to believe the truth as bollocks? Yes, we aren’t as badly off, as a country, as others in the world. Comparing our poor to those who have a slum life in hot countries is going to be hands down they are worse off somewhere else (then again cold requires more calories eaten, cold requires more solid shelter, cold requires means of heat as well as fuel for cooking …) This does not make the point of this article less important. People in hardship are in hard times no matter where they are, or are you thinking of sending our poor to other countries to make them feel less hard up and getting them off our backs? What this article is pointing out, not justifying, is, things are unfair and we need to treat our ‘poor’ better.

6 04 2013
Paul White

I suspect you, alex would not know the meaning of a hard life. People who experience real struggles generally learn the meaning of the words compassion and empathy.

4 04 2013

When people have no money for food, clothes or that must have gadget that their friends have; what is the next issue…a surge in criminal behaviour!

4 04 2013

Why add a point about a ‘must have gadget’. I understand the issues with not having enough food.

For myself we bought a house just before I lost my job which meant that we automatically did not qualify for certain benefits.

But then it is hard when you see people you know are on the breadline. But then they have gadgets that as a hard working couple who just survives, at times working multiple jobs people on benefits affording the things that you cannot.

So there is an element of truth to the bedroom tax, a desire to see the system fairer. However it also needs developing, such as if you register to move, not being charged if you cannot be relocated. In addition, the actually making the work scheme pay, or work, this could be through an additional opt in system where you are paid with food vouchers or something equivalent for your time. This would help to alleviate. Maybe a system where you could opt into the system early to choose the hours to balance job seeking with the scheme.

The reality is the benefit system does need a reform, just not in the way it is happening.

The other current danger is the danger to housing associations. Trials have shown larger defaults where tenants pay their social landlords. As such it could increase the issues with social housing leading to more instability in the sector.

4 04 2013
Amanda Brooks

I fully agree with all of the above, and well done her for physically trying it out!! However, it wouldn’t actually be £18 as there are things not included in the outgoings such as TV Licence (mine is £12.12 per month £3 per week) telephone (landline) the standing charge alone is around £15(?) so that’s aother £3.75 a week. That leaves a grand total of £11.25 for food for a week. Ok, some may argue no need for TV, it is contact with the outside world (news) and Educational. Why shouldn’t we have one? Same as the Landline Telephone (mobiles are almost considered an essential nowadays but there was a time we managed without them) it is contact with the outside world, if only to make claims and query and chase the claims made! I could go on! … I

4 04 2013
Amanda Brooks

… oh and prescriptions, cost of journeys to Hospital and Doctors…

4 04 2013
Mr Demon

Anyone under a certain annual income should get things free, like the TV, prescriptions, travel (hospital/doctors but not recreational). As always, what you gain in one hand (if your not on a massive wage) you lose more of it in the other. This country is diabolical, always penalizing the poor.

4 04 2013
Mr Demon

The Conservative government is returning the people of this country back to the days of real PIRATES. When are they going to realize that what they are doing is destroying the good people who are in ‘no fault of their own’ situations. In the last 25 years I’ve seen my town, and surrounding areas, torn apart with the loss of major industries without a secure industry to replace them. As always, the Conservative government would rather see tens of millions of people die of hunger or die on the streets, just so they save their own arses for the phenomenal mistakes that they created in the first instance. Why do I have to scrape a living together, when they send 20 million pounds to a country who obviously bolloxed it up in the first place, instead of helping their own people in areas of low work and poverty. From the minute I was born in this crap country until my burial, I’ll be paying for the mistakes that any conservative government has ever done in past, present or future. I owe my life to no-one, but my death will be on Cameron’s hands as I can’t afford to live anymore!!!

4 04 2013
Julia Frampton

At last an MP who is prepared, so far as is possible, to “walk a mile” in the shoes of those affected. More MP’s like this lady and we might really have a decent government.

4 04 2013
Amanda Brooks

Oh, and isn’t there an MP involved in this that is living in a 5 BEDROOM HOUSE RENT FREE!!??

4 04 2013

Top post! I picked it up via a Facebook friend and have shared it further. Blessings, Geoff

4 04 2013

It doesn’t matter WHAT country you live in. Hardship is hardship. Like another poster said, people can spend a fortune on a private let, just to get a roof over their head. My daughter has worked since leaving school and through university, paying for lot of things herself like driving lessons and buying a car – fairly essential since she works shifts. She applied for social housing and was asked what benefits she was on and if she had any addiction problems. When she said a big fat NO to both, she was laughed at and told she had a very low chance of a place. THe laugh is that our bought house is classed as overcrowded. thankfully on e of the local housing associations has just come up trumps with a 1 bed flat for her after a wait of a year. The housing officer who showed her round was appalled at the other lots attitude –

4 04 2013

What a lit of crap 10 leaky and 20 gas???? Get over oYpur self. We are a family of 6 and we use less than a fiver a week for each and yes we are on a meter and we don’t have double glazing.

4 04 2013
E lee

Why is that a load of crap Sarah?! I work full time, So during the week me & my daughter are never in…
And I still have to top up £25 gas £25 electric EVERY WEEK!!

5 04 2013
Rob Howett

Crap, we are a family of 5 and our heating bill is £30+ a week, let me know what tariff and company you are with and I will sign up TODAY!

4 04 2013
Kazimier Eibibici

I have to have porridge for breakfast every morning, and I make my porridge with with water. I have to eat the same food over and over and over again. I make a stew at the beginning of the week, and I eat the same food four nights a week. I am lucky if I have pasta twice a week, baked potatoes, or eggs six times a week. Yes it is completely impossible to have meat or fish; she is correct, that is out of the question. It is also impossible to have five portions of fruit and vegetables a week.

Of course being on low income I have become fat because I have to fill up on hydrogenated spreads on white toast and biscuits, the cheapest snacks available.

I find myself waking up in the middle of the night absolutely ravenous, having to make cups of tea and eat biscuits. I have a headache for five days in a week, and I am completely lethargic and exhausted by 4 pm every day. I regularly run out of food before the next pay cheque.

Unlike the people Helen Goodman talks about, I can not receive the benefits she talks about being cut. I actually have a Job which of course takes time and energy for 30 hours a week although not having enough to eat properly. I do get some benefit, because of my disability, a laughable amount which is intended to enable put me on an equal footing with people who do not need any extra support just to work as much as I can and pay my taxes, yes I actually have to pay taxes despite all this.

So I have a question. Why have people who work like me been forgotten in this equation? Why are we only worrying about how people who don’t work and live off of benefits will be affected instead of thinking about how to help those people who despite being incapacitated do our best to contribute to society? Why are we only thinking about single Mums instead of disabled husbands and fathers whose wives are not allowed to work nor claim any benefits because the home office classes them as foreign visitors but still have to pay extortionate NHS medical bills for giving birth at home to British babies?

I don’t have to feel sympathy for these people who are facing a reduction in their Housing Benefits because I am already in complete empathy with how they are about to start living this month. Luckily however, most of them can get a Job to top up their new lower income, while mine is already topped up as much as it can be.

But I am not complaining, I am a man of faith, thank God for religion because without it I would have no opiate. But I hope others might consider what it is they are complaining about and others to think how decadent their lives have become, how little you could survive on when you really think about it and contribute the rest to charity.

God Bless!

4 04 2013
Fiona Macadangdang

finally, an mp that is in touch with reality, its been a long time coming. This bedroom tax is ridiculous as stated in the article there is just not enough smaller properties available. Also I have just moved house and it cost a bloody fortune, how are most on the breadline supposed to afford to do this? Because you can be damned sure the government wont be helping. There are people i know in 3 bed houses with two children a boy and a girl who will be taxed because their childred are under 10!! Well they wont be one day will they! its bloody pathetic.

4 04 2013

Good for the lady who did this, but she should try it for longer than a week! Try it for 6 months! I am struggling particularly with the rise in food prices, and I have been told by my doctors that my diet is inadequate and that I am woefully underweight – AND I am insulin dependent diabetic!
I have not turned the heater on in several years, the flat is cold and there is black mould growing around the windows, and suffer from frequent and recurrent chest infections which then land me in hospital several times a year because of diabetic complications.
My council says move. Where to? Last time housing was built (for families) was in the early 1990s and there are no plans to do so soon!
My council says move. I ask them how I will be able to pay for redecoration, carpeting etc, moving costs etc. Stock answer. Not our problem!
What am I to do with the furniture that might not fit? Stock answer. Not our problem, though they also suggested that I start packing in November last year when they first visited me and sell the rest in order to be out within a week if I fall into arrears!
I despair! My only option is to stop taking insulin and fall into a coma. End of problem for the council.

6 04 2013
Paul White

yes. well done to her for trying it, but the long term effects of living with a poor diet and inadequate housing/heating coupled with the social and psychological degradation that comes from being pushed out of all most sociable activity due to these issues and pure financial constraint isn’t something I expect to see a politician suffer anytime soon.

5 04 2013

Full on

5 04 2013

And we are all in it together………NOT
Like others have said they want to try it for a few months. They have no concept or grip on reality in their great big houses. I am quite lucky to be employed with a decent wage and my husband is a self employed electrician but we have been on the benefits system under a Labour government in the past and it was still hard then but I really feel for those under this government. They will take money every which way they can from the poorest in society. I have been in my job for ten years and have received a little bit of holiday money, however this will now have to be taken away from me for the Workplace Parking Levy. Even though we work we have noticed that our disposable income is not what it was and we are constantly trying to cutback

7 04 2013
PoorlyB (@poorlyb)

I came across your blog because a friend of mine posted it on her facebook page. She got it in turn from another friend, and they both said it made them think, so it seems only right to let you know that your blog post has had the desired effect.

As you no doubt already know, and Helen Goodman acknowledges in her speech, sick and disabled people have been hit disproportionately hard by the government cuts and changes. And the government made no Cumulative Impact Assessment of all those cuts and service changes before they implemented them.

Are you aware of the WOWpetition to get that Cumulative Impact Assessment done, along with a raft of other demands, including an independent inquiry into a lot of the issues faced by the impact of welfare reform on sick and disabled people?

If not, it’s here: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/43154 and I would strongly urge anyone reading this to sign it, and share it via facebook, email and twitter. We are asking only for fair treatment, and remember – anyone is only an illness or accident away from disability affecting them or a loved one.

Further info via: http://www.wowpetition.com @wowpetition facebook.com/WoWpetition

7 04 2013

I don’t know what sort of posh pasta and bread this woman was buying, but I’m a student who does a food shop of £15-20 every week, and within that I manage to include 3 fresh chicken breasts, 2 litres of smoothie, extra lean beef mince, pasta, veg, bread, cereal bars, potatoes, porridge WITH milk, and a couple of snacks. Yes I might eat a similar breakfast and lunch most days, but that’s life. I’d just like to clarify I’m not saying that I think benefit cuts are a good thing; just stating that stupid purchase decisions must have been made in this case. I’d like to know is why biscuits were made as a purchase in the first place if there was not enough money for a 7th evening meal? On a more positive note, I do think its a good thing that MPs are trying to look at the situation from the people who it effects perspective.

26 04 2013

As stated this woman is talking about people on esa most people on esa have an illness be it bad back pain maybe from an accident or something similar okay you live out in the country a and need a bus i know someone exactly like that and it costs them 5 pounds so okay now go do your week after paying bus fair too have fun !!!!!!

9 04 2013
Left Out

Reblogged this on Left Out.

10 04 2013

Politics aside, all I know is that I am hungry, it was a long cold winter, the future is so bleak one has to wonder if it is worth looking forward to. I need to pay the bills, Council Tax now, the money has to come from somewhere, and I am running out of legal options. Unemployed now for 8 years, qualified IT engineer, applied for 816 jobs to date, 2 interviews. My back is against the wall, through no fault of my own. And I fear what desperation will force me to do. Govt seems to have lost touch with people reality, we seem to be the expendable resource, when all I want is a job that pays enough to get me through and enough left for a relaxing beer at the end of a hard honest weeks work.

19 04 2013

Reblogged this on Andrew Gregg's Blog and commented:
Recently I spent two days with someone who had literally run out of money… no food in the house… no gas or electricity… with caring for a blind partner and a disabled child… The guy was a mess… We were able to help a bit… and get some assistance until the next benefit payment… but this is happening more and more… it breaks my heart.

26 04 2013

This government are criminals plain and simple the jails should be housing them instead they are housing less worthy criminals David Cameron should be made to survive on this money for a week or two to see how he likes it !!!!

14 03 2014

I live on around a pound a week. I buy a pack of porridge 70 p, pack of carrots 70p, morrisons own jam 27p home bargain coconut milk powder 49pence lasts for 2 month so no need to buy all the tyme and honey 79p. I have curry and salt at home. So this is all the money I spenf in month on food. I eat porridge and carrot soup, Sometimes I get reduced bread for 9 p that lasts me for 2 weeks. All I am saying is I would be happy with 18 pounds a week I could actually buy a fruit .. well one day and p.s. I do work I am not on any help I am not only working but studying hard to get in to uni and just sometimes itnis difficult as I feel really week

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