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Here are the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s “essentials”, calculating £120 a week as the barest minimum for one adult: £37 for food, £35 for energy, £6 for clothes and shoes, £8 communications (phone/internet), £16 travel, £13 everything else – toiletries, bank charges, cleaning materials.

£5 a day on food? Bare minimum? Really?

I’m absolutely certain that I could eat healthily on half that even at English prices. Boringly, perhaps, but healthily.

53 thoughts on “Eh?”

  1. I’m sure you also could live without phone/internet, replacement clothes, and walk everywhere. Avoiding bank charges and cleaning materials is also pretty easy. Bog roll is cheap, what other toileteries do you need. Tbh pretty glad you’re not in charge of setting benefit levels 🙂

    And on a more serious note, nothing makes a person more intolerent than hunger. Not a cost effective saving.

  2. Vanessa Feltz (or Nina Myskow, they’ve could be one and the same as they’ve never been seen in the same room at the same time…..) spoke about having to pay £6.00 for a tube of toothpaste on the Jeremy Vile show last week. I wonder where the fuck she shops, cos it ain’t ‘Savers’.

  3. I don’t think you’ve had much experience of being poor then, Tim. Middle-class, temporary, intentional poverty, maybe. Most of the solutions to the cheap diet require a certain amount of bulk buying, herbs & spices to make cheap materials tasty etc etc. Trouble with being poor is that they never have sufficient money to buy food on anything but a short term basis. To cook a stew you need a stewpot costs more than you’re entire week’s food budget. And if your cheap stew goes wrong in the making, you don’t eat. So the poor get locked into expensive eating.
    Most of the people with their bright ideas about this sort of thing have never had to do it for real. Let alone have to do it alongside all the other pressures the poor are subject to.

  4. £32 a month on phone/internet? SIM only unlimited data is £16 a month. So what’s the other £16 for? That’s 4 a week, or over 3% of the TOTAL. That £16 a month is more than enough for a pot to cook in, every month, if you shop in the local ethnic area.

    Of course if the powers that be hadn’t massively increased energy prices through stupidity then we would be all better off.

  5. @ bis
    A saucepan isn’t very expensive: you don’t need a stewpot for one adult. And a cheap packet of mixed herbs does quite adequately for a lot of cooking.

  6. BiS

    No, it’s ingrained. Diet/save each week, start to create the kitty/safety that enables bulk buying, deals, whatever extra bits etc, step by step, and let it snowball. You are right in that those that can’t think that way will typically be those most in need of it.

    Didn’t most of us learn that lesson very early on, first job that paid very little? You didn’t spend it all; you always created some slack/safety, no matter what.

  7. You are right in that those that can’t think that way will typically be those most in need of it.
    That is indeed half the problem. You do need a surplus to learn how to do that. And the poor don’t have the surplus to learn.
    It’s like john77’s packet of mixed herbs. Bit over a quid in Tesco? More like a couple in where poor people shop. That’s 80% of Tim’s claimed food expenditure. You don’t eat that day?

  8. I’ve had considerable experience trying to help the poor. Often, with a bit of assistance, you can kick-start them up into a virtuous circle. Then the problem’s trying to keep them there. Because life will come along & knock them out of it again.

  9. Even junk food can be cheap.

    6 pack of sausage rolls £2-£2.50

    That’s three lunches.

    or 8 suausages £2.50-£3

    with a small tin of beans ( own brand 25p but let’s say 50p for some stores ) or sweetcorn (£1) or peas

    or make a sarnie with bread at say £1.50 for bulk

    that’s four dinner times.

    Admittedly you won’t do too well living on only beans and bangers but it can be done.

  10. Idk Tim, a fiver used to be a reasonable sum of cash, but a packet of 10p crisps must cost a pound now.

    BiS – Trouble with being poor is that they never have sufficient money to buy food on anything but a short term basis.

    Yarp. When I was poor, I could barely afford a loaf of the cheapest bread and the nastiest processed shit you could buy from Farmfoods. (Mrs Brains’ Faggots). Dogs and cats had a better diet than I did.

    Being poor is miserable and increasingly difficult to escape.

  11. The JRF use a tyranny of the majority system in their calculations last time I checked. If 52% of the panel think alcohol is necessary then it goes in the essential basket which. That’s my view but if the % is below 50% then the item(s) doesn’t go in.
    So everyone has to have enough to heat their house to 19C, no-one needs to smoke. Everyone with children needs access to a car. No-one needs pets. They bung the whole cost of the panel-decision on necessary things in their calculation, and none of those things a minority thinks necessary. When I asked them about this method, they said it was ok because it evens out.

  12. I’m trying with someone at the moment. They’ve been used to irregular but quite good earnings. Trouble is, the source has largely dried up. They’d do better to get a regular job paid predictably. The income over time, these days, wouldn’t be much different. But you can’t pay food, electric & rent bills with maybes. But it does lack the potential upsides. The last thing that’s needed at the moment is an unexpected money shower to come along. They’ll end up back where they started.

  13. Bloke

    “You don’t eat that day?”

    It’s a mindset. Go without the extras until you can. That was the point I was trying to make. I agree on this – those that can’t understand how to prioritise will struggle, they’ll never work out how to start creating that surplus. One of the things that we hear so much about is how little slack many people have in their lives. It’s the inability to create slack that gives them less chance to escape it.

    [Notice how I refrained from saying: “with the weight some of them carry around, well, err…”]

    “Bit over a quid in Tesco? More like a couple in where poor people shop.”

    Poor people not allowed in Tesco?! 🙂 No matter, Aldi and Lidl understand their geography well…

  14. Yarp. When I was poor
    Depends what you mean by poor, Steve. Some of the poor I’ve known are at the bottom end of the subsistence farming level. On the other hand, they’ve had 19 generations to adapt to it.
    I do wait with interest what happens when our “educated” classes become suddenly & irredeemably impoverished. Which I regard as inevitable. It’s going to be great spectator entertainment.

  15. Otto

    “with a small tin of … sweetcorn (£1)”

    You can easily get a kilo of perfectly healthy basic frozen mixed veg from a supermarket for ~£1. 🙂 Couple of those and a large bag of potatoes, boil them, and that’s most evening meals (with just protein to add)… For the first week, as we’re trying to save/set stuff aside?

  16. Priorities.

    While cooking breakfasts at a charity supporting the homeless and needy this morning I couldn’t help noticing smartphones, cigarettes, alcohol (one person actually asked us to put his cans of lager in the fridge to cool), branded clothing (definitely not Primark) while forming the distinct impression that in several cases narcotics had been used in the very recent path. Business as usual in other words.


  17. “Poor people not allowed in Tesco?! No matter, Aldi and Lidl understand their geography well…”
    Tescos put Tescos where middle class people shop. So do Aldi & Liddle. They don’t tend to put them in areas of poverty because they wouldn’t get the trade. So the poor get to make a 4 mile round trip hike? Or spend half of their food money on bus fare? The poor get the pakishop on the corner. With the bars on the windows & the high prices & vegetables long past their sell-by date*.
    *Not saying they have sell-by dates. You just pick through trying to find what’s not too rotten.

  18. “8 sausages £2.50-£3”

    You obviously don’t shop at Lidl/Aldi. 8 ‘Irish recipe’ (ie knock off Richmond) sausages are £1-29. I eat them all the time, I prefer cheap sausages to dearer ones.

  19. Bloke in North Dorset

    Its Polly and I really struggled, she’s as bad as Spud for tedious writing, so I may have missed it but its not clear what situation this payment is meant to cover. If its for a healthy single person losing their job and tiding them over for a few of weeks it seems reasonable, its meant not to fund permeant lifestyle choice of not working.

    In other cases, long term unemployed, sickness, disabilities etc there are other payments and help available.

  20. “Tescos put Tescos where middle class people shop. So do Aldi & Liddle.”

    Not where I live. The huge 24hr Tesco is slap bang next to immigrants-ville, ie the part of town where every face isn’t white. Similarly all the big council estates have an Aldi or Lidl within walking distance (or a short bus ride if you’re ‘differently weighted’).

    Anyway the middle classes don’t shop at Tesco. They look down their noses at Tesco (and Asda). The middle classes shop at Waitrose, the Co-op, Sainsburys, and (if they are being forced to slum it) Aldi/Lidl.

  21. In the dim and distant days of cheap electricity I survived several weeks on baked potatoes and beans. Not especially healthy but a doable diet until scurvy or rickets catches up with you.
    I am told that a diet exclusively of bananas and eggs can be maintained almost indefinitely. Boring, but cheap.

  22. But this list doesn’t include booze + tobacco at least £100 per week, deliveroo £50 per week etc

    My neighbours are all “poor” yet they buy all this stuff. I’m not poor, I don’t buy those and probably spend less than the rowntree budget on an average week. Go figure

  23. BiS

    MMV obviously, but round here Aldi/Lidle do perfectly well in areas that are anything but middle class. Not saying they don’t do well in middle class areas as well, or that there aren’t poor areas that don’t have the scale/economy to make a store worthwhile, but they certainly operate well in that market. They get the trade because they’re excellent value in that market. But also, as you say, there are no Waitroses (etc) to compete with as they have in the middle class areas.

  24. @PF
    Actually, one of the worse things is to poor in a middle-class area. Place I was living in Sussex. Sainsbury’s the only real supermarket (we’ll forget M&S shall we?) was a fair distance out the centre. So longer from 3/4’s of the town. And he poor couldn’t have afforded to shop in any of the other shops. Their need for boar sausages & maraquayas being limited.

  25. PF

    I was trying to stick to tins because I assumed that the poor don’t have freezers 🙂 I have developed a nightshade intolerance and avoid spuds these days. Anyway a quid for a large tin of sweetcorn, that’s two or three side meals.


    Richmond sossies are bloody horrible ! I at least tried to pick on somethig with “a bit” of meat in them. LOL

    I remember fondly being a student and buying Tesco Value beefburgers that shrunk to the size of 10p in front of my eyes when under the grill. I needed two to fit into a bun.

  26. In the opportunity-rich UK, poverty (aka welfare dependence) is largely a lifestyle choice and the result of obviously bad choices.

  27. Its Polly and I really struggled
    It is rather irritated to be lectured on the needs of the poor by someone of considerable inherited wealth & most importantly, position. My she has made a lucrative career out of it. Those brief couple of weeks in a food processing factory in West London in the 60s? certainly paid for themselves. And I suppose she must have learned something sleeping her way round the mean streets of Notting Hill. It wasn’t the home for cabinet ministers & oligarchs it is now. It would help if she hadn’t consistently supported a political party determined to keep the poor where they belong.

  28. Jim,

    “Anyway the middle classes don’t shop at Tesco. They look down their noses at Tesco (and Asda). The middle classes shop at Waitrose, the Co-op, Sainsburys, and (if they are being forced to slum it) Aldi/Lidl.”

    I consider myself middle class and shop at Aldi a lot. Their stuff is really good as every test into champagnes and gin have shown. I can also attest for the ribeye steak, the pizzas, the Roquefort cheese, the wine, the Moser Roth chocolate.

    The whole model of Aldi is about massive buying of smaller numbers of above average quality products. Their gin is as good as any of the premium brands but you’re not paying for marketing costs and because they reduce the number of suppliers they get a massive discount. It’s a cheaper shop, but they’re not cutting corners.

    The co-op is the pits. The only reason I ever shop there is proximity. Expensive, badly stocked and no better quality than Aldi.

  29. “I consider myself middle class and shop at Aldi a lot. Their stuff is really good ”

    Oh I quite agree, anyone with taste can see that their ‘deluxe’ ranges are excellent products at very reasonable prices. Its the ‘I shop at Waitrose/M&S’ brigade who would have to be forced there by circumstances.

    “The co-op is the pits.”

    Again I agree 100%, the food is sh*t and overpriced. But many middle class lefties shop there because the Co-op is ‘ethical’.

  30. I’m glad I’m not poor. Happily I like sardines. At Aldi, in oil, they cost a mighty £0.59 per 100g drained, or £0.39 in tomato sauce, drained.

    Our nearest Aldi is on the edge of a council housing estate which means the residents also have access to Aldi’s fruit and veg, including today’s salad potatoes @ £0.59 per kilo. If you don’t want frozen peas you could try a 300g tin of mushy peas for £0.32. They also offer baked beans at £0.28 (420g) and red kidney beans in water at £0.33 (for 240g drained). Their bananas are 18p each or 17p in a five-pack.
    Lastly, as a carrot-lover I can’t resist promoting their 1.5kg pack at £0.60.

    Finally, what am I to make of her not advocating the removal of the BBC poll tax, surely a mighty burden on the poor?

  31. The Co-op. Oi, who’re you calling a leftie? We shop there for their Crusty Cob bread – a prince among supermarket breads – and some of their wines, when recommended by the wine critics in the Times or Telegraph. We used to buy their Speck, a delicious ham from the South Tyrol, but they no longer stock it.

    For reasons I don’t understand their milk is better – to our taste – than the other supermarkets’ milk. The branch we favour is almost next door to Aldi so we can visit both on one trip.

    So that’s us and the Council House people, then.

  32. I only spend £10 a month on my mobile phone, which includes a load of internet.
    Everything is out by a factor of 4x at JRF…

  33. Now i was going to post that i reasonably regularly have a pretty economical days eating when a) it’s just me and b) i’ve run out of meat/cheese but its inconvenient/CBA to do a shopping expedition. So i was inclined to believe Tim’s claim he’d get by on 2.50 per day. But i just totted up my usual store cupboard meal day and it was £3.36. Of course there’s still stuff i can take off if necessary e.g marge for butter, but we’re left with the same old, you’re poor if everyone considers you poor. Rowntree Foundation are effectively declaring to the world their idea of poverty, trying to move the goalposts of others, which i suppose comes more naturally to the sociology and marketing graduates that flock to those institutions than does the alleviation work or woe betide addressing a root cause or two.

    Chickpeas tinned (2) 1.20
    Eggs (4) 0.48
    Spring Greens (1) 0.23
    Chillies (10g) 0.08
    Ground coriander (20g) 0.23
    Butter (40g) 0.23
    Bread (160g) 0.09
    Marmalade (50g) 0.08
    Tea (6) 0.06
    Milk (1pt)0.63
    total 3.36

  34. @ bis 1.04p,
    In my town the poor people shop at Tesco which has a large store in the centre of a smallish town. And one packet of mixed herbs lasts for months.

  35. £6 for clothes and shoes

    To me that’s lavish.
    Note to self – I should try to spend more on clothes and shoes.

  36. Mixed herbs? I have a patch of soil 1ft x 4ft, I grow mint and sage. They’re like weeds, it takes effort to stop them growing. That’s my flavouring. Along with a pot of black pepper which has lasted several years.

    At this time of year I have about four weeks’ worth of potatoes grown in the other end of the plot. Most of the year it’s the cheapest Asda spuds, 75p a kilo for a 3kg bag. Yesterdays nosh cost me something like:
    mint from garden
    potatoes 15p
    cauliflower 25p
    cabbage 12p
    beans 30p
    sardines 35p
    cheese sandwich 50p
    6 x tea 30p
    so about 197p for food, but less as I’m currently using garden potatoes.

    On top of that, who the hell is buying clothes *every* *week*? I bought a new pair of shoes last year, they usually last three to four years, so that’s about £25 per year, amortised at 50p per week.
    £50 per month for toiletries and cleaning materials? What are they, coal miners? Then they should wash for free at work. Last week I bought a 4-pack of soap for £1.50ish and a 24-pack of bog paper for about £12. I’m still waiting for last year’s Fairy Liquid to run out.
    £35 for energy? That’s per month, yes? Per week? You’re kidding! (Checks bill). My gas+elec is £72 per month.

  37. “A typical household pays £2,074 for its energy bills” – that’s a bit less than £40/week for two-and-a-bit people. But JRF thinks a single adult needs to spend £35 as a minimum.
    My two-adult household averaged less than £35 per week on gas and electricity combined over the last two six-monthly billing periods – the year of peak prices. So why should the minimum for one adult be more than that?

  38. There’s something I don’t think any of you people have considered. Psychology. How people feel. Brought home to me a few months back when I took a lass to Primark to get some stuff for her young lad. I’d budgeted for 250€. We didn’t quite make that including a couple of small bits for her. Leaving with two big bags full to overflowing, she was virtually in tears. She had never, in her entire life, done that.
    Now you’d think she’d shop at Primark. Cheap. Good value. But she doesn’t. She goes to the the nearby chino & buys worse stuff dearer. Why?.
    Look at it from her point of view. She goes into an enormous store packed with things she’d like. She leaves with maybe one or two. Or, if she gets weak, she doesn’t eat. It’s the same with big supermarkets. Do you want to walk around past shelves laden with stuff you could never afford? Or worse drag a kid round saying “No Dear. No Dear. Not today Dear” You see it looks so much different to those whose lives they know will never get better. That they’ll never afford but a small amount of what’s available. Maybe it’s better not to see it? To shop where there isn’t very much? Where you don’t feel so much of a failure.

  39. ‘drag a kid round saying “No Dear. No Dear. Not today Dear”’ But that was me as a child – not because we were poor but because everyone had the notion that a bit of frugality was a good thing, that spending ostentatiously was ill-mannered, and, in particular, that spoiling children was bad for them. It would be like bringing them up to be arrogant. You just didn’t.

  40. @rhoda

    And you can recycle sweetcorn.

    Go Filipino and use a tabò, and you can skip having to pay for all that bog roll. Utterly unnecessary luxury….

  41. I do wait with interest what happens when our “educated” classes become suddenly & irredeemably impoverished. Which I regard as inevitable. It’s going to be great spectator entertainment.

    Now that is the sort of “Poverty Porn” reality TV I would pay to watch. Ideally narrated by the AI of David Attenborough.

    “Here we see a flock of former diversity managers picking over the refuse in the hopes of finding something both authentic and ethnically diverse to eat. They revulsion is apparent and leads to hysterical screaming when they find that an unopened pack of pasta is neither vegan, nor authentic, but from the hated fascist brand of Didley Squat Farm. ‘I’d rather starve’ said one.”

  42. Go Filipino and use a tabò,
    The modern western equivalent is the bidet*.

    *For our puzzled British readers, this is a sanitary device regularly found in bathrooms that are not British. It is not intended for washing feet or keeping beer cool. Although it will serve those purposes.

  43. They’re like weeds, it takes effort to stop them growing. That’s my flavouring.

    Wait until you end up with an oregano infestation.

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