Twenty Pounds Down, why it’s not okay - my experience living on £10 a week
October 11th 2021
I’m not referring to weight, although I am trying to lose several pounds. I couldn’t not write about the recent government reduction in money, not because I want a pity party, but to share how it is and how anyone could be finding things hard without us knowing.
There was a time, in my twenties, when 20 quid was like £200 to me. Even now, £20 is a very generous gift, a lot to spend on a meal out. I hope and pray I never forget the value of money and that 20 quid never becomes ‘only 20 quid’.
It all started when I first left uni, the sudden absence of a student loan and being unemployed meant I was scrimping a little bit. I had learned at uni that I could do my weekly shop on £10 - this was back in 2006-2009. I was living up north in Lancaster with two others and I remember having this on my mind,“I need to make sure I always have some cash so I can go to the shop to put money on the key”. The 'key' being what powered our electricity and gas. There was one cold and rainy night, I was sitting alone in the living room and everything switched off. It’s never fun when that happens, particularly when it’s dark and raining outside! This, always saving a fiver, might mean missing out on part of a food shop one week if I hadn’t budgeted properly.
I once sheepishly asked an older couple from my local church if I could borrow £5 and I’ll never forget the man handing me £20 out of his wallet. He said I could keep it, which was amazing. Whenever people offered to lend me money, it was always a slight cause for concern, “I’ll have to pay it back, when will I have the money? What if I suddenly run out again?” Most of the time, to save anxiety, I’d refuse. That man, giving me, not loaning £20, meant the world to me.
I started a masters in 2011 and I started to earn interest on my overdraft from my BA (student bank account). I didn’t really understand my situation, apart from that there was a hole which was getting bigger. I somehow ended up getting parcels from
the foodbank for a while. That was a huge blessing.
When I first graduated in 2009, there was a recession and hardly any jobs were available. So I worked Part Time. Most of my twenties were spent looking for work or going in and out of jobs. I had bad depression and anxiety, which didn’t help, they were definitely not the best years in my life that’s for sure.
Probably the hardest thing about not having much money is not having 'choice'. People are so kind and the foodbank was a lifesaver, but there is a luxury to going shopping with your own money which you can spend how you wish. One thing I always craved was healthy food - fruit, and a large variety, I could do this by buying individual fruits, but it was berries and grapes I missed. Sounds ridiculous in many ways but there really was a time when grapes were like gold dust! It’s a first world problem really, but when you’ve got a tenner or thereabouts to spend a week, you have to get the essentials - tins, bread, milk, loose fruit and veg.
I’m only now learning how to drive. I used to get the bus everywhere. There was one time I got stuck in the centre of Bristol, I needed just 50p to get the bus home. It was a 40 minute bus ride, so I was desperately looking all over the place for 50p. I genuinely hoped someone might have dropped 20p or a few 10ps. I can’t remember why I didn’t have quite the right amount of change, I don’t think I had planned to get the bus home. However, I wasn’t going to ask for change, it’s awkward. People would think, “What did she spend it on that she doesn’t have 50p?”. I was so exhausted, I ended up walking the 40 minute bus ride home which took well over an hour.
It was a long hard process, but I did end up getting help from CAP (Christians Against Poverty) I learned how to budget and a friend helped me sort my bank payments out. Didn’t fancy being bankrupt at 26, which I nearly was.
What’s all this got to do with £20 being reduced from Universal Credit? It’s got to do with the fact that it all adds up. I know that Universal Credit was raised because of the virus, but over the last year, everything has gone up in price, not by one or two pence, but in some cases one or two pounds. Try and do your weekly shop in 2021 on £10. You might be able to make a couple of meals, but you will have to miss out on other things. Imagine if you had £20 for the week and you needed to get the bus five times a week. It’s autumn, you’ve got £20 for the week, it’s got to cover food, travel and Gas and Electricity. Even worse if you’ve got kids.
I know this is happening all over the country. People are choosing between the heating and the food. Asylum seekers are given less than £40 a week, their support payment was increased by 3p in 2020. I am in a better position now and I am so grateful to have a job and although I've not been 100% well enough to work as much as I’d like to, I am content and can live comfortably. I guess in writing this, I just hope those who do have the power to change how people live might see it and realise there are more people than they realise who have experiences like this. Perhaps it’s time for change in more ways than one.