£35 for a week – for a family of four (and a cat!)
When I received an email from FoodCycle about this specific fundraiser, I was certainly hesitant. In the press just the week before had been the story of YouTube streamer Alfie Deynes who took a ‘living on a £1’ for a day level to new heights of offensiveness by using his Range Rover to drive around, seeing his personal trainer and loading his video with adverts in order to make money. The internet thankfully kicked his bum, as his appropriation of the issue of poverty was grossly upsetting. I was worried that my portrayal of this fundraiser would get similar criticism, but I’m not making a mint out of it. I just hope that I can contribute to FoodCycle’s holiday hunger campaign.
What makes my story different is that I’m not a celebrity, but a Councillor in Portsmouth. I represent a ward that is the most impoverished in the city which is densely packed with lots of social housing. During the election campaign, the biggest topics on the doorstep were poverty, especially for those with disabilities and failing PIP assessments. These residents have next to nothing to live on. I took the email from FoodCycle and discussed it with my husband. I didn’t want to just live on £2.50 a day, so I suggested we up it to £5 but that feeds us. And our kids. And our cat. And for leisure activities. And to wash ourselves and our clothes. I asked FoodCycle if I could bend the rules ever so slightly and they agreed. We set the week commencing the 16thof July.
So now it’s the 17thand we only started today. On Sunday, the proposed day of our first half of shopping (a mix of Asda with 3.50pm yellow label lottery), I was unwell with a poorly tooth. The Monday alone cost me £21 for an emergency Dentist visit. I managed to hit Tesco after, but only to get the first half of our weeks food, with toiletries. I wanted to get some more food, but the Tesco I had managed to get to had decided that it was sold out of their value range in almost everything. We’ll have to hit ASDA tomorrow.
Planning has been paramount in this task. In a past life I worked as a canteen manager, and managed for a pub company, so I am very aware of profit and loss and cooking for the cheapest amount of money possible. Also, Jack Monroe’s recipes have been a great inspiration. I hope to take it further than just a Spaghetti Bolognaise or Chilli. I’ve factored in some costs for some very basic baking too, so the kids can join in and I may manage to get a cake/pudding this week. My children are used to lots of fruit so I imagine this week will shock them as I simply can’t afford to buy so much. This is where the problems with nutrition start.
Are we getting our five a day? Ha! No! I’m able to get two but my kids one, that’s just from beans. I find myself unable to afford fruit. Protein is another one. It’s coming out so far in cheap mince, sausages and eggs. I don’t think I can afford chicken at all. Maybe nuggets. Although, I might be able to do a Sunday roast if ASDA still sells those insane turkey legs, coupled with potatoes, frozen peas, 25p stuffing and 20p gravy.
The thought of all this preparation has already sent me quite close to breaking point, as I’m probably going to be shopping at 5 different places to make my money stretch. I’m thankful that I live in a city where so much happens for free so I don’t need to worry about keeping the kids entertained at the weekend. We have adventure playgrounds, museums and great splash pools. Most are within walking distance, and as per the rules of this week, I can’t afford the bus. Thursday will be a test as I will make my three-year-old walk a mile and a half to a coffee morning, and then back again. She’s been out of her pushchair for a year.
The reality is that I already come from a place of privilege in respect of this challenge. My rent and bills are paid, and my debts are under control due to incremental uplifts in family income over the last few years. This means I am going into this challenge without the burden of financial stress that people face it day in day out. It’s easy to plan when I know I can go back to spending more the following week. This kind of extremely low income is faced by a huge amount of families on a permanent basis. This is when the isolation sets in for them as they don’t want the hassle of a three-year-old screaming at them that it’s too far to walk, so they stay at home. They don’t want to feel the shame of not being able to afford a nice drink or an ice cream when so many kids out there are getting those things. They don’t want to be trying to explain to their children why, whilst they are screaming and the world looks on like they can’t keep their kids quiet. As somebody who suffers with poor mental health myself, I can only begin to imagine what it would be like because I know how often I just walk into a shop to make the problem go away. Money shouldn’t be making us feel ashamed at all. The system is broken.