So here’s a fun task for someone bored

In The Road To Wigan Pier Orwell gives us the weekly diet of a poor family on benefits.

50% of the weekly cash is spent upon food. And he details out what that is spent upon.

So, anyone actually got that list? Can’t seem to find it, Google Fu is failing. And then, then – anyone want to price it up at today’s prices? Go with the Aldi/Lidl/Sainsbury’s Basics range sorta prices.

Or, perhaps, if someone can find that list I’ll have a go.

Would be interesting to price that diet as against modern wages…..

49 thoughts on “So here’s a fun task for someone bored”

  1. So perhaps the really important thing about the unemployed, the really
    basic thing if you look to the future, is the diet they are living on. As I
    said earlier, the average unemployed family lives on an income of round
    about thirty shillings a week, of which at least a quarter goes in rent. It
    is worth considering in some detail how the remaining money is spent. I
    have here a budget which was made out for me by an unemployed miner and his
    wife. I asked them to make a list which represented as exactly as possible
    their expenditure in a typical week. This man’s allowance was thirty-two
    shillings a week, and besides his wife he had two children, one aged two
    years and five months and the other ten months. Here is the list:

    s. d.

    Rent 9 0 1/2
    Clothing Club 3 0
    Coal 2 0
    Gas 1 3
    Milk 0 10 1/2
    Union Fees 0 3
    Insurance (on the children) 0 2
    Meat 2 6
    Flour (2 stone) 3 4
    Yeast 0 4
    Potatoes 1 0
    Dripping 0 10
    Margarine 0 10
    Bacon 1 2
    Sugar 1 9
    Tea 1 0
    Jam 0 7 1/2
    Peas and cabbage 0 6
    Carrots and onions 0 4
    Quaker oats 0 4 1/2
    Soap, powders, blue, etc. 0 10
    Total L1 12 0

  2. Shillings and pence

    Rent 9 0½
    Clothing Club 3 0
    Coal 2 0
    Gas 1 3
    Milk 0 10½
    Union Fees 0 3
    Insurance (on the children) 0 2
    Meat 2 6
    Flour (2 stone) 3 4
    Yeast 0 4
    Potatoes 1 0
    Dripping 0 10
    Margarine 0 10
    Bacon 1 2
    Sugar 1 9
    Tea 1 0
    Jam 0 7½
    Peas and cabbage 0 6
    Carrots and onions 0 4
    Quaker oats 0 4½
    Soap, powders, blue, etc. 0 10
    Total £1 12 0

  3. Ok found it. p 84.

    (skim reading – there was such a thing as NUUEW national union of unemployed workers)!

  4. Bugger, that’s annoying. It doesn’t give quantities. So, first step is by far the most difficult, looking up prices from then to work back to qs. This is much more work than I’d thought it would be.

  5. This site – – has some info for a basic range of groceries and cover many of items on this list. No idea how accurate it is. It also doesn’t give historic prices in LSD.

    According to this site, bacon in 1935 cost the 5.48 of today’s pounds per 400g (£13.70 per kg), which makes it more expensive than Tesco finest bacon today. Tesco sells a brand of cheap bacon for £4 a kilo.

    The 1930s diet looks terribly boring, but there’s plenty of calories and only the marge is dodgy.

  6. My gran used to smoke 80 fags a day, ate only fried food, drank from morning to night and never did a minute’s exercise in her life. She died of a heart attack aged 42.

  7. jgh getting used to a new tablet

    As a comparison I’ve been nerdily tallying my groceries for years. As a single childless mid-50s I’m spending a smidge over ukp101 a month. I’d have to go through the receipts to see what that represents in actual products bought, but a few years ago I kept a food diary before an op and the NHS figures claimed I was consuming 1500 calories per day.

  8. During the great Scargill fascist/communist insurrection my wife saw a striking miner’s wife interviewed on the telly. The woman explained that they felt so poor on strike pay that she was having to feed her family chops.

  9. Just looking at the 2st of flour a week there: that’s about 46,000 kcal per week, or 6,600 per day, in flour alone. Between 2 adults and 2 little ones. By modern standards, that’s an awful lot of calories. Undernourished they certainly were not, particularly if nobody was working manual labour.

    Looking at it, they’re eating a lot of bread and jam/dripping, cakes, drinking sugary tea, and eating meat & 2 veg on occasion. Breakfast varying between porridge, bacon, toast, that sort of thing. Boring and highly unvaried by modern standards, but perfectly nourishing and in no way deprived.

    Just remember that when some modern land whale on benefits claims her kids are going without food on the BBC or in the Graun/Mirror.

  10. I have the prices for the list now from sainsburys (mostly basic – now called hubbards) I’ll email you them.

    What i guess need to do is have a shilling- modern pound conversion on everything and then we can work out qty figure of how much that gets you.

  11. One tends to forget that in the absence of adequate home heating (generally just one coal fire in one room)and inadequate clothing a high fat diet was important for people in keeping warm.

    Being a pre-war, countryside-raised child, one of my favourite comfort meals is fried home-cured bacon, boiled new potatoes with broad beans and the bacon fat poured over the veg (or would be if I could find the right ingredients here in East Asia). Cholesterol? Pah!

  12. @hallowed be: the issue with that approach is that a simple inflationary or CPI calculator won’t give a true picture, since many things have become comparatively cheaper over time to general inflation, food being one of them (more recently, electronics being the obvious one).

    You really need to find price lists from back in the day to convert to quantities and then use modern day price lists to see how much that would cost.

  13. @MC it’s strong bread flour from a smaller millers covid inspired webshop. Their 16kg plain flour is £12.49.

    A quick google sees that in 2016 Aldi plain white flour was 45p/kg and bread flour 75p/kg. They have since done a 10kg pack of plain white flour for £4 this year.

  14. taken out the non food
    Items S D Pack unit per pack per unit
    Milk 0 10.5 6 pints £1.10 £0.18
    Meat 2 6 1.24 kg £3.84 £3.10
    Flour 3 4 1.5 kg £0.80 £0.53
    Yeast 0 4 8 sachets £0.90 £0.11
    Potatoes 1 0 2.5 kg £1.05 £0.42
    Dripping 0 10 0.25 kg £0.40 £1.60
    Margarine0 10 0.5 kg £1.00 £2.00
    Bacon 1 2 0.5 kg £0.75 £1.50
    Sugar 1 9 1 kg £0.75 £0.75
    Tea 1 0 160 teabags £1.15 £0.01
    Jam 0 7.5 0.454 kg £0.28 £0.62
    Peas 0 3 0.85 kg £0.58 £0.68
    and Cabbage 0 3 0.86 kg £0.69 £0.80
    Carrots 0 2 1 kg £0.40 £0.40
    and Onions 0 2 1 kg £0.50 £0.50
    Quaker oats 0 4.5 1.5 kg £1.70 £1.13
    Soap, 0 5 0.5 kg £1.30 £2.60
    powdersetc. 0 5 2.925 kg £4.50 £1.54
    9 87.5
    ________ 16 3.5

  15. not pretty – why i emailed it.

    hmm – abacab have to think about that .. can do the quantities of flour then at least – though a cash and carry price list would be more apt for that.

  16. MC said:
    “@Gurzel – the modern flour price you quote is rather expensive. Aldi white flour is 30p per kilo.“

    They’re also buying yeast so I would guess this is bread flour, which is more expensive. But still only 60p or 70p per kg – Gurzel must be buying something fancy.

  17. Back when I were a lad working down’t’pit, the NCB collieries had canteens where we’d have breakfast and lunch. When money was tight, I’d have a dripping sandwich for lunch.

    I rarely have them nowadays, but I am occasionally tempted, the key is there must be lots of jelly.

  18. As I recall, he stayed in a boarding house which also sold out-of-date tripe. Not much of a market for that these days 🙂

  19. My Dad used to make dripping sandwiches.

    It’s as manky as it sounds.

    Just looked up what a dripping sandwich is.

    Fucking British will eat anything.

  20. From a nation that eats grits…..really. And dirty rice really is as appalling as the ingredient list sounds. Boiled rice with fried chicken intestines. The least that could be done is to get the tripe from a cow as God intended.

  21. Dudes, remember that you need to compare the cost of the food with proportion of income, both then and now. Many things, including most food, have collapsed in price over the decades, though other things, say a lawyer, probably cost as much now as they ever did.

  22. with fried chicken intestines

    A word to the wise here, Tim: you need to rephrase that to, for instance, “with fried intestines of chicken” because there are now bots and algorithms scouring the online space for aggravated racist hate crimes and the blatant juxtaposition of “fried” and “chicken” is enough to get you cancelled.

  23. My parents also ate dripping sandwiches.
    They were children during the war (WW2), when a dripping sandwich was a treat indeed.
    I grew up in the aftermath of such food scarcity. Nary a bite wasted.

    I’m partial to adding lots of gravy from the roast beef into my sandwich – not so different a result, when you are luck enough to have roast beef available.
    Dennis of the many and humourous qualifiers was probably spared that history of partial starvation, being a left-ponder. Thank your fortune.
    A longtime ago, but people of my age clean their plates. Sailors died to deliver that…etc

  24. Dennis, He of the Consistent Panda Bear Shape

    From a nation that eats grits…..really.

    Not sure how you get from a dripping sandwich to grits, but, whatever.

    Grits is a porridge (using hominy or white corn). Bland and mushy, but not disgusting. And the nation doesn’t eat it… It’s regional. The South, east of the Mississippi, (which is something of a wog land in and of itself) eats grits.

    Dirty rice is Cajun Louisiana (west of the Mississippi, but Froggie Wog Central).

    The Southwest eats polenta.

    The North doesn’t touch any of that shit. We eat the bits of the cow God intended to be eaten, and we eat corn in the manner intended.

  25. Dennis, On The Front Lines Fightin' Them Chlorinated Chickens

    Well at least they weren’t chlorinated dripping sandwiches.

    Are we sure of that? Has anyone verified that with Richard Murphy?

    There could be chlorinated cows out there, you know.

  26. Talking of the US, I had to explain to my US father-in-law (of Italian 1920’s Ellis Island family lineage) that my actual-Italian colleague’s father, when he said they ate meat most weeks as a child, meant once a week most weeks, and that yes, indeed, meat does include chicken.

    The US was, and to many degrees still is, a very different place as far as food abundance is concerned.

    He still has difficulty to come to terms with the idea that meat of any kind under CHF 10.- a kg is cheap for us, whereas he scoffs and says he buys the same chicken legs or whatever for US$0.69/lb…

  27. I’ve never been quite so horrified at food prices than the time a friend took me into a Swiss butcher. OK, so he bought venison and he was a rich, rich, bloke, but still. Good grief!

  28. It’s fairly common in northern Germany (round Hamburg or Schleswig-Holstein) to sit down to dinner at a restaurant and be offered bread and, to spread on it, a pot of butter and a pot of dripping. I prefer the dripping.

  29. If the man was an unemployed miner, he wasn’t a miner any more. Miners got very cheap coal. Being unemployed meant that he didn’t get it.

    I remember in the 1950s and 60s we only had one open coal fire in a house, and ours were bigger than miners’ cottages. coal fires can be very hot in small houses even in the winter.

    I find some food items not to be extortionately expensive, things that were staples then. Other things are ridiculously cheap: chicken for one.

    A year or so ago I read a student magazine that had an article by a student who had failed in an attempt to live on £1 a day for food. The real reason he failed was that he wanted real Parmesan on his pasta! I tried to cost out a daily diet of £1 a day, and failed. Matters are worse if you cater for only one person – it’s cheaper with a group, because then you can get the best out of multibuys and bulk buying. I reckoned that it was probably doable on £2 pp per day with 4 adults and somewhat less with 6, although a very disciplined approach to rationing (‘portion control’) and lack of treats was needed even then.

    That ex-miner’s family probably scraped by, just, but counting them as equivalent to 3 adults, on say a total of around £50 a week today you could probably just about do it, but it wouldn’t be easy. The advantage of being unemployed would be to have time on your hands to research best prices. You would also be eating things like pasta that were uncommon back then.

    I’m not sure that I could do it effectively on as little as that, but my spreadsheet said it was just possible.

    As well as salt and sugar as flavour enhancers, today we have chilli flakes.

    There’s also the difficulty when on limited means of buying something where the cost is spread over weeks. If you don’t have the lump sum to buy it in the first place then you are stuffed.

  30. Strange that no-one here has recalled the formats for writing £sd prices.
    £4-17-6 or £4/17/6 17-6 0r 17/6
    Back, pre-decimal, few would have written them any other way. Certainly not with full stops in.

  31. Agree re chicken. When I worra lad chicken was a treat and corned beef was cheap peasant food. Today, corned beef is three times the price of chicken slices. I bought some corned beef yesterday, as a treat!

  32. So Much For Subtlety

    abacab September 9, 2020 at 3:45 pm – “Talking of the US, I had to explain to my US father-in-law (of Italian 1920’s Ellis Island family lineage) that my actual-Italian colleague’s father, when he said they ate meat most weeks as a child, meant once a week most weeks, and that yes, indeed, meat does include chicken.”

    Time on the Cross proved that African American slaves in the Old South ate better than Italians did. Well, more meat anyway.

    Also, if you believe Khrushchev, they ate better than all the Soviet bloc except East Germany. Almost twice as much meat as Bulgaria

  33. @smfs

    Father-in-Law went tracing the family history back to Tuscany, and got some locals to tell probably the same stories they told to all the visiting Americans claiming heritage from that area.

    One thing stuck out though – stories of gathering chestnuts for food since there wasn’t anything else to eat. I think modern day people are so removed from that kind of poverty it’s difficult to process. But that was rural Tuscany in the first few decades of the 20th century, people reduced to gathering stuff that we treat as a quaint autumn/winter tradition and mostly just leave on the ground.

  34. Picking out 2

    Flour (2 stone) 3 4 = £3.20
    Potatoes 1 0

    Flour 28lbs (12.7006kg) 30p/kg = £3.81 – and no sawdust
    Potatoes 42p/kg 2.5kg (5.5 lbs) = £1.05

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