Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Consumer Choice

I think I must have misunderstood something somewhere along the way. This week, lots of bloggers have been doing the Live Below The Line Challenge – managing on a £1 a day food budget for 5 days.

lbl-logo-uk-portrait-regular The website says Live Below the Line is challenging individuals and communities to see how much change you can make out of £1. By living off just £1 per day for food for 5 days, you will be bringing to life the direct experiences of the 1.4 billion people currently living in extreme poverty and helping to make real change.

I have absolutely no problem with that, and I am absolutely thrilled that so many people are being sponsored by friends and raising thousands of pounds to alleviate poverty. But what is bothering me is the way that this challenge is turning into an episode of this…


People are sharing their recipes and menus for various meals which cost below £1 – using all the tips which Mrs Moneypenny and friends have been sharing. Things like ‘buy value brands’ ‘shop at Markets’ ‘shop in the evening, look out for yellow-sticker-reductions’ etc. That, in itself, is brilliant – I was scrimping before Mrs M’s sidekick Harry Wallop was born – honest!

But surely, if you want to ‘bring to life the experiences of people living in extreme poverty’  then there should be some more rules, not just ‘spend less than £1 a day on food’?

What about the fact that in the 3rd world, people have far less choice about their diet. It is always rice or manioc porridge, or some basic carb. [and maybe a little dirty water to drink] Day after day after day…

Having something different at every meal is a sign of affluence.

This is the UK and almost everybody has access to potable water from the tap – but there are still many living in extreme poverty in our nation. So I looked at the suggested menus and thought how they might use them [although living in EP they may not have access to the internet] to achieve a low cost, varied diet.

omg dinnerA recipe requiring ingredients from Asda, Tesco, Morrisons and Sainsbury's to hit the budget target is all very well if you live close to these four shops, but…

It is a 3 mile round trip to my nearest Sainsbury ‘Local’ and 10 miles to the ‘Superstore’. [The other ‘big three’ supermarkets are even further] A Mum with a buggy could probably walk to the former – but the latter cannot easily be reached safely by pedestrians. And the little ‘Local’ stores carry a very limited range of the “Value” varieties. And a young Mum who has to put children to bed is unlikely to be in the store at 8pm when they are doing the ‘late night’ reductions. And an OAP may not want to go out at night to shop, even if they can get to a big shop with their free bus pass.

DSCF3542But what bothers me most is that politicians [like Ian D-S] will use these budget recipes to justify their welfare policies. “I could live on these benefits – and so could you if only you managed your money properly” they will say. Back in the 80s, in the days of the Iron lady, some charities did not want Bernadette Lawrence to publish her book, fearing that the Government would say just that.

Nevertheless I applaud all those who are doing the £1 challenge – especially people like Sue, who has gone to just one shop and planned a week of fairly repetitive meals.

A harder challenge might be “Spend just £1 a day on food, but only from shops you can walk to, during daylight hours”.

I must continue to ask myself these questions –

Have I

  • given thanks for the food I have on my table today?
  • given thought to those who will go to bed hungry tonight?


  1. YES, Income
    Its a life experience not a game for a day
    Heating, food shoes/cloths
    all having a knock on affect to fissical and mental
    health of a low income family

  2. Great post Ang. You said so many things I was thinking and so much more eloquently too!

    Last night we discussed this at the dinner table and if it has got us talking about it well that is a start.

  3. I agree it's a great idea. But as you say it has its limitations. One of the things impossible to emulate is the despair and depression caused by not being able to see an end to the poverty. Doing a challenge for a week you have the security of knowing that it's only for a week and then you're back to the luxury goods. You haven't got that background fear of hearing the little voice that says, "Mummy, my shoes are getting too small", or some essential household appliance breaking, etc.

    1. Exactly what I was thinking.
      Jane x

    2. I agree completely. My uncle never recovered from the mental illness caused by being long term unemployed in the early 1980s. Grinding poverty is a very apt description, because he was ground down, became a shadow of his former self and was sectioned twice. The pain and heartache lives long.

  4. I think you're right - was reading another blog today which says very similar things:

  5. Thanks for your thoughts. I agree with you, especially your final questions.

  6. Thank you. I think you've put the problems with exercises like this very eloquently and posed some interesting questions.

    The problem is never doing it for one day, with planning - it is doing it indefinitely without being able to prepare.

  7. The motives of the peple taking part in this challenge are admirable and I wouldn't want to disparage their efforts in any way.

    Our table chat was along the lines of how much more diffcult a challege his would be to maintain for a month, year etc. which might be what people who live below the poverty line might be faced with.

    Having said this well done to everyone who did take part. I didn't but will make a donation to my local food bank.

    Good analysis, Angela.

  8. I posted last night about this challeneg, I have shopped as i do normally, and must say that to live this way long term would be detremental to my childrenshealth as like you say we would not have the variety of foods, mainly fresh fruits and vegetables.

    For those who want to challenge them selves, to make them see where they are spending their money, I say go for it, because along the way it will make them think about living like this long term, it is hard, very hard.

  9. I wanted to reply to Liz's comment above [but blogger wont let me put it there] Yes - the blog she refers to sets out more reasons why the £1 challenge fails, and is interesting reading.

    Thanks to everyone who has commented on this post.

  10. Bravo, well said! I always think that when people say imagining what it's like to live like the poorest people do in the 3rd world and I think of what they have to eat which seems so repetitive. It's a good idea but it's important to remember what you said! I've done the living (in terms of food) for less then £1 a day in Indonesia- my daily food budget was 10-13,000Rp (around about 80-100p) and I ate the same food every day but it was tasty! But to have to cover rent, travel and everything else as well-impossible I am sure!x


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