Of course you can survive on £53 a week. But is it living?

Of course Iain Duncan Smith can live on £53 a week. Remember, that’s a figure after various other benefits have been taken into account so it’s there for actual luxuries – like food.

It’s a spurious argument really. Iain Duncan Smith lives in luxury compared with most people but, to be honest, there are very few politicians that don’t. He also probably has little to do with the day-to-day running of the minutia of life such as washing his clothes, cleaning the toilet and making the tea. But, and this is where the Mr Angry argument falls down, if he had to live on £53 a week like many people find themselves having to do, he would manage it. He might not like it. He’d almost certainly hate it. But he wouldn’t starve and he’d manage to keep life and limb together; with or without his wealthy connections.

But it’s not just IDS who could live on £53 a week. We all could – if we knew how. And that’s the rub: most of us don’t. And it’s not necessarily our fault.

Helen Goodman, the Labour MP for Bishop Auckland, recently set out to disprove – sorry Helen, discover – if it was possible to feed yourself on £18 a week. I’ve just tried it. And succeeded. And with money to spare.

But I’m fortunate. Cooking’s my hobby and passion and so I’ve read hundreds of books on the subject, spent thousands of hours practicing, I was even taught to cook while at school which wasn’t that onerous seeing my Mum taught me at home first. I also have some interesting basics already in my store cupboard that are bought in bulk but used over long periods of time; things such as flour, spices and pulses. I’m also lucky enough to be able to afford a freezer – but, there again, I’d argue that any family should buy one of those long before bothering with a TV but I can’t see that many people agreeing with me.

As a result £18 was more than enough to feed me well for a week – and it was even easier when turned into £36 to feed both me and my wife. And, without meaning to sound too smug, it even paid for two friends to eat with us on the Friday evening; but I insisted they brought the wine.

It’s relatively easy if you already have those basics in the cupboard but there’s no way you can build them up if you suddenly start the exercise today with nothing in there. Just to use a pinch of salt means you have to buy a container full of the stuff which alone distorts the budget. Making soup in bulk is a really cheap option but boring if you can’t freeze it and ring the changes with previously-made soups. And cooking for two is much cheaper than cooking for one in relative terms. And so, therefore is cooking for three and four and so on.

But it’s no good if you’re cooking for children and you are forced to give in to their demands for crisps and any number of the processed foods advertised on the TV – another reason for getting a freezer rather than a telly.

Knowing how to make pastry is a great help as is getting four meals plus soup out of a ham hock, four meals plus soup out of a chicken and having the imagination to be able to cook a rabbit.

But none of this is possible if you can’t cook the basics. And if you can’t cook the basics then it’s probably because you’ve never been taught. And for that, we really must blame Helen Goodman’s party. And Iain Duncan Smith’s party. And anybody else who’s had influence on the content of what’s been taught in schools over the last forty years.

This living on so much a week is just a political argument. In the UK we’re used to a very high standard of living in comparison to, say, a family in some poverty-stricken country where if you gave them £10 a week, they’d kiss your feet. But by going ballistic after asking a government minister if he could live on £53, or by trying to prove that feeding yourself on £18 a week’s inhuman if at all possible, it becomes obvious that the motivation is political.

Putting politics aside, the truth of the matter is that if you can’t cook, living on £100 a week’s not going to do you much good. You’ll still end up eating expensive, boring, unhealthy, life-shortening rubbish.


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