A Tenner a Week for Food

by Gerry Lynch last modified 12 Jun, 2014 06:15 PM

Dorset churchgoers voluntarily spend a week experiencing what life is like at the edge of breadline Britain

A Tenner a Week for Food

John Parker and Jean Thomas pictured with their weekly food budget as they start their challenge.

Could you survive with just £10 a week to spend on food? A growing number of people have to, and Jean Thomas, who worships at St Peter’s in Shaftesbury, decided to challenge herself and her fellow parishioners to give it a try for just one week.

John Parker, who was one of the churchgoers to take up the challenge, told the story of his and his wife's efforts to stick to this tight budget limit.

“Jenny and I decided that we would not use items from the store cupboard, but would start on Monday with a week’s shopping to last the week.

“We immediately found that the healthy eating advice on eating a certain number of portions of fruit and vegetables a was ditched. We looked for the everyday value tins of tomatoes and beans to supplement our mince, bacon, corned beef, cheese and eggs. No longer could we look for organic produce or different types of bread. Choices were no longer available - we took much longer looking for what was value or what had the largest quantity for our money.

“We found that the value items were usually on the lower shelves. There was no more dropping little treats into the trolley! Our shop came to £19.19 so we knew we had 81p left for emergencies which happened to be another loaf during the week. We had 13p left!

“During the week we managed to live on that food and became quite adept at varying the ways of eating mince, but there were no second helpings, no puddings and no between meal snacks. It was boring and we longed for fresh fruit and veg to add variety.

“We could not meet people for coffee, we couldn’t relax over a glass of wine; ‘real’ meat was definitely off the menu. We were much more aware of prices and quantities and yes there were times when we felt either hungry or bloated from an overload of carbohydrate.”

“Navigating the system can be a nightmare, but a single unemployed person should get an income of a little over £70 a week if they are over 25. They are also likely to get most of their rent and rates paid so that, in very simple terms, about half could be allocated to heat, light and water and the rest to food.

“This doesn’t account for the many other things that most of us would regard as essential, television, phones and internet, new clothes, travel and modest entertainments. For starters, how is it possible to look for work these days without a phone and an internet connection?

“Life on basic benefits is basic living or survival and certainly not the relative luxury that many of us enjoy. Again, in theory, with careful budgeting and spending, it should be possible to have a healthy diet without recourse to food banks, or other hand-outs that are a valuable fall back for real emergencies.

“Careful budgeting and spending needs solid determination and an iron will to resist all the temptations of supermarket shelves, credit cards and advertising. A few of us may have these sterling qualities, but they are comparatively rare and easily lost in trying to cope with illness, family breakdown, children to satisfy, any sort of addiction or bailiffs knocking on the door to chase up past debts.

“People faced with any of these things will soon find themselves robbing Peter to pay Paul and not knowing which way to turn. No wonder the payday lenders do such roaring trade

“So what have we learned? Firstly, this is life for many - we only did this for one week and are looking forward to variety in our diet and being able to make choices. Not everyone is so fortunate.

“Secondly, when we make a contribution to the food-bank we should include little treats to raise morale.

“Thirdly, it is important not to judge until you have tried it.

“And, finally, we hope with God’s grace we will be more aware of others needs and become more compassionate.

“We will try something similar for Lent in 2015 – but perhaps vary it by trying different methods, possibly using yellow labels only or bartering. We would welcome suggestions people in other churches might have.”

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