Friday 20 May 2011

Poverty Cooking

Desperation Stew

-Prise one limp, mouldy leek from very back of fridge. Peel away 2 or 3 mouldy outer layers, rinse off remaining mould and chop.
-Appraise last 4 carrots. Cut away brown, slimy bits, peel and chop.
-Chop last two bendy sticks of celery. Use leaves to increase flavour.
-Notice out of date pancetta scraps, sniff cautiously.
-Defrost half a pack of mince.

Add ingredients to pan and fry off. Add one tin of basic tomatoes, one litre of stock and cook gently for 1 1/2 hours. Serve with rice.


Nothing sums up the divide between journalists, Westminster and real people better than the bemused astonishment of affluent Londoners surrounding the Sainsbury's "Feed your Family for a Week for £50" campaign.

Amazed and incredulous, the all-organic "stock simmering" classes (Times, Thursday May 18th) think this quaint experiment has landed from a 1950s austerity planet. "Toast and jam for breakfast???" "The kids wouldn't touch the sausage hotpot" "No snacks??" One reads these articles with a sense that the family have gone to observe poverty in Africa for the week, so alien is the concept of cooking on a strict budget..

Of course, it has fuelled the debate that it is Sainsbury's running the campaign. Last stop for those in genuine poverty and first for the suburban Delia-Mums, I imagine the experiment would have been roundly ignored had it been launched by Asda.

The only thing that astonishes most of the country is that it should even be a subject for discussion. The "budget" takes no account of cleaning products or toiletries. No drinks or clothes. Most families do feed their families on £50 with varying degrees of resourcefulness. Are there no "stock simmerers" living in poverty?

There are two ways to go:

1) Shop at Freezer Store.
Buy bland, tasteless slabs of frozen crap, serve them up with a bit more frozen crap (though vegetables or fruit are, obviously, optional with this plan) and follow with a slice of frozen crap. Make lunches with cheap ingredients no longer related to their original source. Add a carton of sweeteners and flavourings. Buy a bottle of cheap sweeteners and flavourings to serve at home, a mega cheap bumper pack of frozen "lollies" (actually just more sweeteners and flavourings) and 2 or 3 packs of very cheap biscuits and crisps.

2) Devote your life to bargain hunting.
-Go straight to "reduced items" buy whatever meat or fish doesn't look too on-the-turn and shop around them. Make the "reduced item" aisles your friend.
-Buy tins of pulses and tomatoes, a few tasty spices and a big bag of preferred starch (we like rice)
-Make a chicken last three days (roast, curried, then stew with vegetables.)
-Try your local Pick-You-Own farm - it's addictive.
-Discover your local market for the "Two for a paaaand" fruit and veg or the "Not just one pack, not two but THREE packs of top quality meat" fella. The quality is often excellent.
-Embrace Lidl. They sell much better quality budget food than Tesco with fewer additives, highly discounted European products and seasonal, well priced fruit and veg.
-Turn leftover fruit into smoothies or sauces or pies
-Make fishcakes
-Grow your own herbs and favourite veg in pots or take an allotment
-Serve cheap starch with every meal.

Is it really any surprise that many families go for the first option? Consider long workdays, children's clubs and housework. Is it really any surprise that we face an obesity crisis? Is it actually something we should be judgemental about? (and we are) when millions of families living in poverty have little other option?

The terrifying question of the times should be "What happens when budgets are squeezed even more?" What gets cut as families living in poverty already live to the bone? Is it possible to make a chicken last four days? (sort of) What happens when there's just nothing to go in the lunch boxes at the end of the week? How many Desperation Stews can you get away with? Dare you try the 20 frozen "sausages" for £1?

The Sainsbury's furore highlights perfectly the problems our country really faces. Millions of shoppers chuckling wryly that £50 would be a relief, while the affluent, London-centric, organic brigade view the whole thing as an implausible joke. Most columnists draw the conclusion that you probably can feed a family of four  for £50 a week, but that it is a joyless and unethical process.

Well, yes, it is. Food ethics simply have to take a back seat to hungry bellies. Innovation and flair is certainly possible, but it takes dedication and time. Protein will be low, starch plentiful and treats almost unheard of.

As relieved Islington lab-rats return gratefully to their delis and morning granola, the real tragedy is the millions faced with the daily grind of food poverty. The millions of families who live the Sainsbury's "experiment" every day.


  1. My daughter
    and I, survive on 10p noodles & 50p bread.

  2. We couldn't survive without big bags of rice. We have basmati with almost everything even roast dinners. Surprisingly nice with gravy.

  3. I do option 2 - but I do option 2 because I have made the time and know we couldn't survive any other way. I eat organic food, non homogenised milk, all that yoghurt-weaving stuff because I'm aware of the benefits. And yep, I have shopped the Iceland shop once when I didn't have the energy to do much cooking and was floored at how much food my usual budget bought me. But then, the thing was it didn't actually taste like FOOD. Just...filler with flavouring in. My son wouldn't eat any of it at all; he knows what real food is.

    On the outside this looks as if we live an incredibly cushy life of leisure. It costs however; I have no car. We have no telly - no Sky, no license. Can't afford that sort of thing. I buy clothes so rarely it's an event, and everything I get is usually from Ebay or I sew it myself. I haven't bought new shoes in years; I just get my old ones repaired. I brew my own beer and wine otherwise I wouldn't have any - too expensive to buy; and I give a good portion of it away as barter or presents. And, to be truthful, if I didn't have to give up my career to take care of my son and manage my own health, I wouldn't have had the time to do any of the above. Come to that, however, with my career I might have had enough money that the above wouldn't have been a problem anyway.

    Gardening was one of the only ways I could communicate with my son and I've taught him a lot about life, the universe, and everything by growing fruit and veg. It isn't as hard as people think but with the constant pressure to work 50+ hours a week/eat at your desk/kids have to be in daycare-playgroups-afterschool-activities-or-you'd-get-fired-for-taking-all-that-time-off, I can certainly see why people struggle. When I tried to float the idea of a community garden up here where I live in sink-estate hell, people stared at me like I was trying to convert them to Islam. They literally had no idea how to grow fruit and veg, and didn't understand why they should bother when they could just go down to Iceland and buy frozen peas for a pound. It's a cultural mentality - yet, we're not that far away from the generation who Dug For Victory (because if they didn't they would have starved to death).

    I do wish more people would delve into option 2 however, somehow find the way to make the time - because the sheer concept of having to take a class to know how to make stock actually boggles my mind. But if it's a matter of the oh-so-commonly-quoted "survival of the fittest", then that looks like I'm a shoe in long before the yuppie-folks who can't even make soup without a stock-cube and a cooking show.

  4. Great, great comment as ever OD.

    Just the kind of debate I hoped would follow. I do what you do, and like you, it was my full time job along with managing my condition. I MUST eat that way to survive the crohn's, but most of us OUGHT to. Eat for health on about 30-40 quid. A full time challenge.

    At the same time I won't judge those who buy cheap, easy food. I prioritise what goes into my body (I have to) they may spend all year putting a few quid by for clothes or a camping break. Poverty is poverty and it takes away the luxury of choice.

  5. How is shopping for £50 a campaign. I spend around £50 when I do a shop and that's not just food, its all the other things you need like washing powder etc. I manage quite well TBH. I do go straight to the reduced items. When cooking I bulk food out. Lots of carrots, peas and onions in mince for instance, more tattie than mince when having mince and tatties, neep is another cheap filling food expander. Give me 4 sausages some potatoes and an onion and i'll feed a family of 4 by making stovies. There are just so many ways to make food stretch but I just don't see it as doing that, its my life. I bought some rump steak from the Co-op on Monday for £3.20. I've had some of it everyday and I cooked the last of it yesterday as fajitas. I ate half of it yesterday and will finish the rest today. Not bad, 5 days on £3.50 but until I read this article I hadn't thought about it like that, its just my normal routine and in fact I think I eat very well. In fact probably better than many as I never have ready meals. Everything is cooked from scratch.

    For me £50 a week isn't an experiment, its how I have to live my whole life.

  6. BTW, Sainburys is the last place i'd go on a budget. It is without doubt the most expensive supermarket around. I see Sainburys as the rich persons supermarket.

  7. In fact coming to think of it I often have to live of £50 in a fortnight far less as week. There have been many occasions when i'm scrambling around at the bottom of the freezer eeking food out and hoping I can make it last because it will be over a week before I get more money.

    I'm wishing I hadn't read this blog today now because i'm getting angrier by the minute thinking about it. I just want to scream at these people

  8. Actually, you can get four meals out of one chicken - Boil up the carcass for soup. You can get away with adding very little (few veg, mostly onion and also a stock cube), and either use rice or potato to add a bulk to it (and the starch will help thicken it all).
    It's surprising how much meat you get from the carcass, you just have to have the patience to pick it to pieces once you've initially boiled it.

  9. By the way, another excellent blog. I for one am a Lidl monster - partly from need, but also partly because we lived in Germany when I was a child, and I love a lot of the food (apart from bringing back some great memories).

  10. ...and further towards the other end of the spectrum, most of my salary after rent and bills goes on food, partly because I get home from work after the proper local food shops have closed, but also because I need the supermarket to buy ready meals because I'm in too much pain and too badly coordinated to lift pans and chop things.

    I can't do a big organised bargain shop because I can only carry a few things at a time. Mix that with a partner whose depression is too great to allow him to plan and shop ahead, or cook very often, and who depends on my salary. I try to buy a reasonable number of the fresher healthier ready meals and it costs a flipping fortune.

    I'm lucky to be able to stay in work so far, but the costs are high. And of course attempts to claim DLA to help cover the extra cost of not being able to cook and shop properly have failed. But if Peter saw me in the supermarket he probably would want to scream at me, which makes me feel sad.

  11. I live alone on a tight budget. I often succumb to the lure of cheap convenience food. I try to improve my diet, but its difficult. It's not only the lack of money, its the lack of motivation when depression, in varying degrees, casts its muffling cloak over every day. Sensible, healthy frugality requires energy.

  12. I do often make the chicken last 4 days. We have roast as a treat, then I make either a curry or chicken supreme that we eat half of and freeze the rest, padded out with lots of mushrooms and onion.
    The last day, I make stock from the carcass and use the last pickings of chicken to bulk out with lots of veg.

    Miss Piggy - in fact there is a post to follow on exactly what you bring up. Despite poverty, many "spoonies" HAVE to buy either good quality or easy to prepare food. Take-aways are far from a little luxury, but sometimes the only way to get food if you can't get out of bed and can only dial a number. Manuka honey is incredible for inflammation but cost £10 a jar!!! (I have even asked for it as a birthday present once, lol)

    When times aren't quite as hard as they are now for my family, every extra penny goes on improving the quality and variety of the food we buy or making life easier for me to serve.

    I'm really glad so many of you are leaving comments. I really wanted this to stand as a record of the challenges sick and disabled people face just to feed themselves. Whether through poverty or symptoms, food is one of our biggest issues.

  13. It is very easy to feel that you're alone in managing yours and your family's diets to the best of your ability, as in example 2 above. It's good to know that there are other people and families out there, who are doing just as we are doing.

  14. Another point that journalists don't understand is that yes, you can manage frugally for a week or two... but it's the constant grind of poverty that wears you down. Add to that the constant grind of pain, of not being able to cook from scratch because you risk cutting or burning yourself and the whole thing is nightmarish.

    When my children were small I used to do everything from scratch. I could make one bag of flour stretch in all directions.

    But cooking from scratch requires not only know-how but time. Someone needs to be home to actually do it. If you're working all hours, that's not an option, and if you're too ill to work then yes, you may be home, but often you're in no state to prepare meals and all the gadgets and gizmos in the world (supposing you can get hold of them) don't make it easier.

  15. Tinned tomatoes, baked beans,rice pasta pulses are reguar additions to any cassarole i make..Shepherrds pie with lentils added can also be very tasty.

    Pasta is also a regular choice and YES the reduced shelf and fridge are two of my best friends,
    I try to eat well but need help with food prep if my benefits decrease or just become worth less I will really struggle

  16. When I was at university I fed myself rather well from spending around £15 a week in Sainsbury's. Admittedly it was now close to ten years ago, so there will have been some inflation - their wholemeal spaghetti now costs 80p and I am sure it used to be 29p.

    I also used to buy a copy of The Sunday Times during my weekly shop, but stopped this after becoming gradually more and more annoyed with the constant ridiculous assumptions of wealth made by the journalists. I think the last copy I bought suggested Mark Warner as an answer to the search for a cheap family holiday.

  17. I'm another one who has to eat crap (well, heavily-processed food anyway) due to lack of energy. I try to get fruit juice and cheap carrots to eat raw to get some proper food into me, but otherwise it's a choice between frozen rubbish and existing entirely on toast. I take supermarket own-brand vitamins as well, as the last time I stopped the supplements for a few months I developed the early symptoms of scurvy. Scurvy. Seriously!

    My diet is still mainly toast though, and only 2 meals a day, sometimes 1, so I spend less than £10 a week on food at the moment (no-one else in the household).

    My illness should fade in the long term, for which I'm very grateful, and I'm dreaming of the meals I'll be able to cook one day. I stare at recipe books longingly :D.

  18. Quoting Sue's comment

    "I MUST eat that way to survive the crohn's, but most of us OUGHT to. Eat for health on about 30-40 quid. A full time challenge."

    Reading this, I have just had a horrible realisation. I currently eat rather well - lots of fresh fruit and vegetables etc. and I'm sure it has a substantial effect on my health.

    However, I'm expecting an enormous drop in income in the next couple of years due to both the time limiting of ESA and the replacement of DLA with PIP (I currently receive more than £200 a week and look likely to lose this all). I've been terrified about losing my ability to afford transport to hospital, basic care etc. but have only just realised that I'm also likely to lose my current luxury of being able to eat healthy food.

    Just one more thing to add to the list of why I'm going to cost the NHS thousands and thousands of pounds more when the DWP take away the hundreds of pounds they give to me.

  19. I am facing this issue, I get DLA mid care as I can't cook which let me buy fresh veg etc in formats I could cook. However my local council have decided now that I have to pay them my DLA care for my ten hours a week I get help for so ironical I can no longer afford to eat.

    The option of looking at reduced food dosn't apply as I rarely get out to the shops, and I can't cook anyway so buying all the ingrediants and rustling up cheap meals is't going happen.

    So I have option one- buy cheap frozen crap. Looking at the new PIP proposals it seems that being able to put a frozen meal into the oven counts as cooking so I woulnt be getting DLA for this in the future, but like I said it gets taken straight off me anyway due to council cut backs.

    Disabled people have far less choice when it comes to feed themselves for less money its cheap frozen crap or go hungry.

  20. £50 a week seems like enough to live pretty comfortably, if you're careful. I've always been frugal, but I don't think it's as simple as frozen store vs good food. Frozen veg can be great and doesn't spoil. Same with fish. You can shop at iceland and be healthy.

  21. RosieHopes - For a family of four? Surely many of the comments on this thread make a lie of that? Nothing is EVER as simple as you can write in a short blog post, but the options are pretty much those taken up by most of those living in poverty.

    I'm frugal to the point of farce, but £50 is a very tough order indeed and as someone else pointed out, doing it for a week is one thing, but for years is entirely another.

  22. If it helps with perspective, it works out at 59.5p per person, per meal.

  23. Sorry to burst that one, but frozen food isn't all that fantastic contrary to what the frozen food companies may try to tell us in order to get us to buy more of their stuff; frozen meals are often full of sodium usually and little else, and as people have said, it's often the only thing people have the energy to do Whether the veg or fruit is fresh or frozen isn't even a concern when you haven't the energy to cook it up. Nothing says "I'd rather just have some toast" than a mess of mushy vegetables so soft I don't have to chew. You couldn't pay me to eat frozen meat from Iceland - I don't know where it's been, what it's been injected with, or whether it was re-frozen after thawing completely at some point. When eating the wrong thing will put me flat on my back for a week I cannot take the risk.

    If £50 only "seems" like enough, then it sounds as if you haven't tried to do it. There was a time I lived on ramen and red beans and rice and I may have LOOKED all right (worked as a uni student) but if I tried that now, it would probably put me in hospital for malnutrition. When every effort is a struggle, it's not just a matter of just getting some food into your mouth - sometimes it's also a matter of it tasting good enough that you actually want to bother with all the effort in the first place. I easily spend £50 a week just for me and child and even then it's a stretch due to so many variables (and if you want to get a view of that, peruse my blog where I talk about just this sort of thing at great length). Food is the one thing I absolutely will not compromise on.

    Moreover, we shouldn't have to.

  24. I'm a mixture of both. I'm the cook in the family so if I'm to ill to cook we need the frozen stuff for my husband to cook. I've found the 1st option is so much easier and cheaper then going "organic". I will pay the earth for fruit and veg in the supermarket but in my local market I can get so much more for less that its gone off before we have a chance to eat it! Me and my son also grow fruit and veg together but due to "health and safety" we've nearly lost the plaints we have (I live in a flat and the plaints are on the balcony). Not everyone in London live that way Sue, there are a lot of Londoners who live on the poverty line and are being pushed out of their homes by the government due to the cut in housing benefit so that people who can "afford" it have the desirable postcode.

  25. *whispers* Don't grow it on the fire escape. Get roof access if you can and grow it up there. That's technically fine. I never said that though *whistles*

  26. As i cant eat much at all one small meal a day i have to be very careful what i do eat so have to stick to marks and Spencers food
    Not all of it i can eat as most doesn't agree with me but what does is expensive
    I dont worry about the cost as i would be dead without it

    So my food cost for the week is around £30 which is not bad
    However when you add the family's shopping budget for the week then that adds up to around £100 per week so all in all average so I'm told ?

  27. Sorry- I didn't mean to sound like I was saying "it's fun to be frugal". It's clear from the posts here that there are lots of reasons why eating is more expensive- and DLA should definitely take that into account.

    But I find that using frozen or tinned food is often easier, cheaper and just as nutritious.
    And it saves me money because there's less waste.

    I just think it's a bit of a false choice- and that the frozen aisles an offer a lot to people like us who shop on a budget.

    It's also worth noting that feeding a family of 4 is cheaper than feeding 4 individuals, as you can stretch meals.

  28. My illness has sent me on a downward spiral since before Christmas. I haven't cooked a meal for myself since then and it's been very strange - I often wonder if I'll have to re-learn to cook once I'm out of relapse.

    However, over the past nearly three years I've been married my husband has had to learn fast - and on his feet - about cooking.

    We don't have a freezer (which is a pain) but it's meant we've had to not buy bread (I would never buy it full price, it's getting too expensive!) and I am too sick to make bread, which would be my ideal method then I know what's going into it. We also don't buy frozen, or if we do, we have to eat whatever we buy THAT day.

    We are a family of three now so we just have to be smart about what we do buy and eat. Like OD we don't have a TV or cable/Sky/TV licence. Our Internet is paid for through work I do and we watch everything on-line. We never go on holiday (not only can't we afford it, I don't think I'd be well enough to go.)

    We never buy meat as we follow a vegan diet; seeds, nuts and lentils work for us. They last longer in storage and can stretch further over the week. We buy UHT soya milk. I survive on cereal for breakfast, three pitta breads with humous and sundried tomatoes for lunch and some lentil based dish at night with potatoes, other veggies etc at night. We'll follow that with a fruit smoothie made with coconut milk (tinned.)

    I don't have snacks as my family have a long history with heart disease so I'm conscious about this. I eat fruit after I've had a meal to keep my blood sugar level.

    We have a one day a week 'cheat day.' Last Saturday I had chocolate (soya) milk (85p in Tesco for 3 cartons) and Sunbites crisps (on offer, I think, don't know as hubby does shopping.) Like I said, we don't eat bread - just wholemeal pitta's which my stomach seems to do okay with.

    My diet is very important to me as it means I can better manage my gut problems - was originally told I had Crohns all to discover it was growths causing the problem. Since they have been removed I feel better, but not 100%. I am now dealing with ME/CFS and find when I manage my diet I can manage my symptoms better. Budgeting is important for us because it means we can track in and outgoings and be prepared for anything the government might pull in terms of benefits.

    We also believe in keeping a food storage and part of that (it's small) is keeping a good supply of tinned stuff. I hope to build up our food storage but currently our kitchen is so small that we're keeping food in our living room.

  29. I also meant to add that if my husband wasn't doing the shopping (on top of everything else he does ha) then we wouldn't be eating this way. We would be worse off and living off cheap noodles and milk - the way we were when I lost my job.

    Life is hard, why is it just being made harder?

  30. I am now a little concerned about some of us spoonies! This comment thread should be printed off and sent to Ian Duncan-Smith.

    I'm sure we all have our own fall-backs, but can I recommend Lidl steam meals from the freezer section? (Can't remember what they're called)
    There is a salmon, dill and pasta one with nothing in it I wouldn't use myself. It's very delicious and I think about £1.80 The other one is probably very good too, but tomato based, which I tend not to eat as much of.

    If I'm unable to cook, I always have those in as they're so well made, they don't even trouble my militant bowels.

  31. I can't go shopping any more - or very very rarely - but shop online. Of course the problem then is that I cannot take advantage of the reduced sections. Online you just pay full price.

  32. £50? How in gods name do you lot do it? We are a family of four and spend roughly £150 weekly on food. With disabilities that require dairy food for strong bones and a diabetic diet too our bill is always this high. I only eat one meal a day and do not eat fruit or veg although my children do. We go without tons of stuff just so there is food available. I am amazed by your strength.

  33. I do a weekly Sainsburys online shop for £50 (including delivery - they have BOGOFs and other discounts all the time) though admittedly I only have to stretch it occasionally to two rather than four and I wouldn't like to invite guests for dinner.

    It's still delicious luxury being able to buy what I actually want rather than what's out of date and marked down because I can remember the head-banging desperation of trying to feed myself as a single person on the £20 a week left from Jobseekers Allowance before I could 'prove' my disability and qualified for DLA. Am seriously not sure I could go back to living like that.

  34. I feel if it were printed off and sent to IDS that he would just dismiss it - or rather, whoever his secretary is would dismiss it as nonsense.

    I'll have my husband check out Lidl. Although the salmon one I wouldn't have. We like Lidl - and it's sister, Aldi, a lot.

    Yell in the Dark, I'm in the same boat - I don't shop. I have a family member who helps us every month or so by getting us a shop on-line and then my husband shops all the other times. I find shopping a very tiring experience in general.

    Like most of you, we're bargain bin hunters, too. I would never buy bread at full price unless it was out of convenience to do otherwise. If we had a freezer I would freeze reduced bread and take it out as needed. We barely use our fridge and for two weeks actually unplugged it because there was nothing in it haha.

    It shows you how we live from scratch; everything is prepared from the basics with very little added or taken away.

    Don't get me wrong, we've lived out of packets (like I said above) but we can't sustain ourselves living like that, no one can. But there are times in a persons life where they are pushed to live like this. Meanwhile our politicians are enjoying their £400 a month food budget.

  35. Many disabled people have to buy online and buy ready meals that can be put straight in the microwave due to not being able to stand for long, bend to get anything out of the oven etc. I used to have to do this and if I had a family it would have been too expensive as ready meals are much more than that. Also for times when microwave not easy to do would recquire snacks needing no cooking - not cheap either. My partner has now moved in so he does the shopping and cooking - which is great - sept Ive now gone from underweight to a bit over!!

  36. My diet has gone from being quite healthy, because I've always been a frugal shopper, to rubbish because I have problems swallowing most types of food. In addition, I was the cook in the family and am now unable to do this anymore. I hate to buy frozen food and microwave meals as I find them bad value for money, fiscally and nutritionally, and as a kidney patient, cannot risk the intake of sodium.

    I've noticed that it has become increasingly difficult to feed my family of four - myself, my partner* and two cats - not necessarily because of the ever-increasing price of basics like bread, rice, and vegetables, but because of the other necessities - coffee, tea, milk, dry cat food, detergent, margerine, mayonnaise, sauces etc., cost more and more with each passing month, even the store brand ones are increasing in price - and you can't grow those on an allotment. Whereas I used to be able to easily fill the fridge for £30 per week, now it would be £45-50.

    We do not have a local Lidl etc., - our local stores are M&S, Waitrose, convenience stores and a Morrisons (which is the one my partner is forced to use), and having to do the shopping online since agoraphobia has fucked up my life adds hidden costs because you can't choose bargains and are charged up to £6 for delivery. We do have a local market but the food there cannot be trusted and as someone with no immune system, I cannot take that risk.

    It is, by the way, illegal for stores to sell damaged goods on reduced racks but of course they're never going to tell you that.

    *My partner is awaiting residency in the UK, has not been able to find work in 2.5 out of the 4 years she has been here, and cannot claim benefits. When she has worked, they stopped my my IS, HB and CT benefits and took back payments from my DLA which didn't improve our position one iota, in fact left us with more debt.

  37. It's going to be really bad, but in theory food is fairly cheap and if you know what you're doing a family can eat well on a less than £50. Trouble is, that's the theory - there are a lot more expenses other than food which can't be got around as easy.

    A big problem is marketing and the pushing of addictive, fatty, "cheap" foods on uneducated people, we're being screwed over by supermarkets and junk food pushers in much the same way as Africans were exploited by the baby formula bastards in days gone by - and this is killing people. I think advertising of shitty food should be banned, and all kids taught the secrets of cooking decent meals.

    Myself, I'm experimenting with a new range of home made soups (dried pulses, spuds, carrots, and odd bits put through a blender) that should provide me with an excellent diet for as little as £5 a week, so I'll be ready for this round of benefit cuts when they hit me.

    Anyway, politicians should definitely be forced to live on the same as benefit recipients before they mouth off about how the poor are all bleeding the country dry, etc.

  38. Thats the point it may be possible to do it if you are able to have the time and engery but for many people it is not. Also if your single much harder not to waste things or eat before it goes off so you do end up paying more per meal.

    On another note think its been some time since they worked out the prices of eating healthy the cost has gone up so much. You know in their ideal little world, like tv ad for cereal its never just cereal has to be balanced diet ie cereal with fruit with fruit juice with some nice wholemeal bread for a family of 4 that soon starts to add up.

    Im currently experimenting with the cheapo range of mirco meals actually dont taste that bad but the lables are serioulsy scarey mostly fat,sugar and salt. But I dont really have much of choice now *note to self much look up signs of scurvy!

  39. We have done the iceland shop and we regularly shop at Lidl. When I visit my parents I go to Aldi as its cheaper than the Lidl in my town and take things back home with me on the train. We live on potatos and frozen meat and tinned vegeltables stretched over several days. Not quite sure how if money is cut from our budget we will eat. Possibly will have to live off the cheapest cat and dog food.

  40. The thing is, how long can you manage on scrap- soup or rice and beans? Well, OK, forever of course - many countries have less. But is that the point? Really? Is that really the point?

    I had to find a hotel in London last week. In Bloomsbury!! When I looked on I literally got a bit hysterical and giggly. It was my ENTIRE month's money! Every penny. 2 nights for two people, bang, an entire month's money. MPs get the same amount I get EVERY MONTH just for their food allowance!! £400 per month! on top of their 65k salaries, housing expenses, transport costs and even TVs and blenders. And they DARE to tell me we're all in this together whilst taking away every last penny I get to survive?

    The world's gone totally mad! The 6th richest country in the world is trying to convince us that it's OK for people who are terribly unwell or disabled to live in abject poverty, scratching about for scraps. And people are OK with that.

    Sometimes this blog makes me sick with shame.

  41. Its not ok Sue but the problem is I think the government don't care because they don't see us as useful so don't care if we starve to death. I see it as an act of defiance just to keep surviving week to week. They have such huge allowances though and I think that helps them lose their grip on reality or they never seen what its like to scrape by in the way we do. I feed myself, my husband, 4 pets and several friends who have even less than me or are in the middle of appeals on my £221 a fortnight, and more than half the money I get a fortnight goes on bills. I am determined that I wont be beaten down and I wont let anyone starve either so I scrape by its the best I can do with the lot I have.

  42. We live in an impoverished area and most of our shopping is done at the Aldi and Iceland at the end of our road. Our kids won't eat crap and my disability is making it impossible for me to cook. It's such a balancing act that a career as a circus performer seems easy in comparison. What makes me angry though is people who shop at M&S or who buy Tesco Finest all the time that tell me to be more careful with money. Maybe if they had to live on our budget with our disabilities they might shut up. I won't swear on your blog (not today, anyway) but you can imagine the words I'd like to say.

  43. [QUOTE]sue

    Sometimes this blog makes me sick with shame.[/QUOTE]
    We all feel like that sue it's hard to believe that I'm now 55 years of age and have always been part of the establishment (bank of england) and could never ever of imagined that i would be reading this blog in latter life because this country has screwed itself up so badly over the past few years
    If i had told the governor who i worked for back in the seventies /eighties that this country would be the like this in 2011 he would have requested that i see a mental doctor how times have changed

    At least my mp knows my views on David Cameron and doesn't hold it against me. I'm probably David Cameron worst critic by far and being from the establishment he'll have to deal with it he is not from the Establishment and is just passing through and with luck in four years time we will see the back of him and we just have to pray that is the

  44. On the positive side, I have a suggestion that might work for some. Neither my partner or I can cook a proper meal alone; we each might manage a semi-convenience meal, like with pre-chopped veg; we manage to cook properly by sharing the work, and even then it's not safe (and nor is the option of semi-convenience), but what can you do? Even if we do either of those things, anyone involved in the cooking is too tired, dizzy, and/or in pain to eat it. We managed to stretch to a modest extra expense, and it should last a while - a slow cooker. All the effort of cooking happens late morning/early afternoon, and then it's just the effort of dishing up at the time we want to eat (and sometimes sorting out rice or pasta to go with whatever's in the cooker). It doesn't reduce the effort overall, at least not by much (very little need to stir or anything), but taking it away from the time of eating makes a big difference.

    It's easily big enough to make a meal for 4 in - even 6. Cleaning is a bit of a pain, but it cleans easier than a lot of saucepans. Cost us about £60, but smaller ones are cheaper, and I think there were some a bit cheaper at the same size but missing some features. I expect we'd be eating crap by now if we didn't have it.

  45. (oh, that late morning/early afternoon is also "as early as we can manage", just to give context. Could done much earlier in theory)

  46. I have loads of rare, chronic illnesses and bedbound unable to do much at all for myself. I also have coeliac disease. Just my gluten bread alone costs £15 a week! I'm so worried with all these changes I literally wont be able to afford gluten free foods which are at least 3x as expensive as normal ones.

  47. I once invited a new type of gourmet - the potato snob. This for me was the poor person's way of winning cred over wine snobs.

    Not many people know their round the different varieties of potatoes. To be frank those washed and bagged tatties are a wee bit dear but eating is not the point of this exercise. The objective is to have something to say when one's middle class associates brag too much about their pricey grub.

    Feel small no more. Celebrate the common spud as if it were the finest of foods. Speak of it as you would of a fine wine. Think of the variety. King Edwards, Maris Piper, Charlotte... There are so many more to choose from.

    You think this is bullshit? Of course it is but it is also an effective way of teasing my middle class friends and relatives.

  48. £50 a week to spend on food? Where is this promised land? I want in. This coming week I have a choice to make with the money I have available for the next two weeks. It's prescriptions (I have to pay as I am on IB) or food. I'd rather have both, but it isn't going to be possible. The pre-payment certificate system doesn't work for me (I never have enough spare to purchase one- even for three months and as my prescription needs aren't regular - feast or famine, there's little point) I can go for three months without the need for the drugs then need several prescriptions at once. Now our GPs are restricting us to one months supply of all drugs maybe the prepayment thing will work for me. But I still have to find the cash. I still have to find the money for food.

  49. @ Oya's daughter sorry I've only just seen your comment. There isn't roof access and I live on the top so no-one above me and where they are, are nowhere near the stairs or the front doors so in the case of a fire to get out we're go nowhere near them! Its really health and safety gone mad!
    Sue so many family's are suffering as the government is squeseing everyone and the price of food is riseing. I eat one meal aday (because I can't handle more then that) but I have to boys I need to keep healthy so need to keep on top of things but it isn't easy!

  50. I skip food ( It's amazing what you can find in shop bins late at night - friends found a whole bin-bag full of Bounty bars behind a Waitrose recently, which I've been enoying a share of.
    It's technically illegal, many shops lock their bins and put up fences to keep people out, and of course it won't work for all disabled people, but it helps keep me fed, particularly when I was too ill to manage filling in the forms to get benefits.
    This also makes me really angry about the amount and value of food that is just thrown away. For example, I regularly get fruit and veg which is past best before dates, but hasn't been brought because it is no-where near ripe yet.

  51. I fantasised about a take away, about ability to make a lush meal and settled on cheese ham and onion toasties...I made them and the cup of teas to go with it, one smaller cup and my larger mug, carried in the right hand as the left is still a bit dropsy. I had finished the smaller fist cup of tea when I remembered I made myself some food...I had forgotten to go back for it when I set my teas down and covered the bigger mug to keep it warm longer. Ah well it isn't stone cold and at least I won't burn myself as I scoff the rest down now...

    My choice of food has gone up slightly at the moment as I have days when I can prepare a meal instead of just oven ready stuff. I have discovered quinoa, it is tasty and nutritious, I have it when I can make it with 89p lidl chicken tikka masala jar and a cooked chicken when I can get one reduced...£12.50 for food a week, I actually have less than that most weeks but due to loved ones who care I have not starved while I awaited tribunal then 7 weeks for them to reinstate me on ESA....I sometimes worry about saying that because then I may be called a fraud and have money taken off me for being helped to survive when the benefits system doesn't give me even half of what I need to do so...just survive, not have money for clothes and things many people have taken for granted...I'm not making as much sense as I wanted is not a day I can concentrate for long...

  52. I also live a lot on value bacon and sausages...I've been wanting to get a pork hock to make a big pan of soup in...I do get sick of eating it and sometimes the gag factor forces me to try and make something else or crisps which are my emergency snacks and sometimes meal...if I had the money and energy to eat properly I could be frugal some days without it being so upsetting...

  53. Before I got MS i ate so well. Now i eat crap :-( I cant DO what i could before - I live in fear that they will take yet more money away and I wont be able to eat at all (having lost so much weight already more is not a good thing) They say after the WCA we would go on to jobseekers - But you have to sign that you are able to work and whatever - I KNOW i am not able - I have MS and I dont know how i will be every day until I am semi alert and upright. So how would I know if i culd work until the day - What employer would have me like that??

    So when they take the money away I will starve to death - I am sure they wont mind - one more off their books. My family would tho - I was dignity in disability and all they have done is make me feel like a piece of sh** on their shoe

    Some days I cannot even make any more than maybe soup or toast. That is not a good diet. Some days I might be able to microwave a potato and something out of a tin - that is not a good diet!

    I use my DLA to get me easy foods with (I pray) some goodness in them so my body is not perishing - I used to be so very fit - I was training to teach fitness! Now - I am just a shell of the person i used to be and becoming more and more so as time goes on :-(

  54. I have a gluten allergy and have to buy gluten free food - it's really expensive. If/when they cut my benefits I will not be able to afford it. What do I do then?

  55. We have to be dairy free as between us we have allergy or intolerance, this rules out 99.9% processed foods. We don't get benefits because my partner is a student so his student loan has to pay for everything (it's just more than the min required by govt to live on). As we own the house we don't get mortgae help. I am autistic so have trouble keeping jobs and I have to look after my child anyway as childcare here a year is more than minimum wage.. We have just under £70 a week to pay *everything* mortgage, bills, food etc. I can't cook because my concentration and Multi tasking ability doesn't exist so my partner does it when he gets back from college. We do get charitable help from a local church once a fortnight in food packages. It keeps us going and is so kind

    We always eat well but we rely on charity or family helping us out. Soon my parents either retire or will be made redundant. I'm not sure what happens then. Breaking up the family is the most financially plausible option. I'd get more as a single parent. My partner is self funding retraining as his original industry all but went bust. That's why we don't have much a week for food because some of his loan pays fees

    I wonder how people come up with this £50 figure. For those on benefits you don't get much more than £50 a week and that has to pay gas and electricity too. If I didn't have a child, food would likely be a after thought. Tv, mobile, Internet etc. I don't have it myself. I use the library which thankfully isn't closing down where I am.

    It's shocking what the govt will put us through but amazing how humans can adapt.

  56. A friend has 5 children - three of them have a serious life-time illness, business collapsed, house repossessed, husband left. They are living on cheap white bread and "Value" noodles. One day I was there and there wasn't enough to go round, so her meal consisted of the flavoured water the noodles were cooked in... she made out she wasn't hungry. They are in a village and there is no food-bank they can get to because they no longer have a car. This is a "middle class" family who used to have a lovely house, car, jobs and good health. Think about it - children with serious life-time illness living on rubbish carbohydrates...long-term.

  57. Sue, you should send this thread to JAMIE OLIVER and Sainsbury's. It's great that he goes off to improve the diet and health of schools in the States, but how about making him aware of the situation for ill/disabled people in this country who already cannot afford, and are too ill to actually cook, anything near healthy food, and are about to have their financial and care support cut by a third or more. I AM SERIOUS - FIND A WAY TO SEND IT TO HIM - maybe he will support us.

  58. Fair point - celebrity supporters are a good way to build popular support, and with this specific spin he might actually be interested.

  59. Anon - Love the idea this should be sent to Jamie Oliver and Sainsburys!

  60. My family had a good lifestyle until three years ago, my husband was made redundant. Being disabled, no one seems to want to employ him and he will most probably lose DLA when it changes to PIP. We sold our home and moved to London in the hope that one of us would find work, but there was nothing. I have now started my own business because I just couldn't stand starving on JSA. It takes awhile to build up a business so now we starve on Tax credits instead. At least we no longer have to worry about the possibility of being sanctioned and left with nothing. We have to survive on one meal a day, which is usually eggs and bread. No fruit, no veg. I would sell my soul for a banana or a salad these days! Now we have to worry about the cuts to housing benefit. With the new cap coming in, there is no way we can afford a family home in London. Unless business picks up greatly, we will have to move. But where to and with what? Moving is expensive so where will the money come from? People just don't understand how poor poor is in this country. They seem to think that in modern Britain it's impossible to be totally penniless. It's time someone burst the public bubble.

  61. I could write a book on this. In fact I have started! When I was a very little girl my mother had to feed our family (clothe, pay rent and buy coal) on fifty shillings per week. That translates on £2.50 per week (I think it was 1966). The lessons we learned then have stayed with me all my life. Now I'm not even entitled to any benefits (except the lower mobility component of DLA because I have rheumatoid arthritis) and we live on my husband's salary (he works for the NHS). My weekly shopping bill averages £35 for two of us (and 3 cats).
    May I recommend Approved Foods? It's an online retailer, and even with the delivery charge it's well worth it.

  62. I do less than £10 a week on food, but that's just for me. However, I live off cereal for two meals (one if I'm not too hungry), and have a much bigger evening meal, so it's not really what I'm supposed to do. However I don't think it's an option of 'just bit up frozen rubbish', I just tend to pick up a really cheap bag of frozen chicken, lots of smart price pasta sauce (I can pick up tons when it's like 10p a bottle and make it last ages. I should point out, I do know how to make my own, but don't have the energy to do it, that'd probably make it cheaper if I did though), and a huge bag of cheap pasta. Variety, not so much. Healthy, again not so much...

  63. I will openly admit to cheating. Because the tremor in my hands are so bad, I only eat two meals a day after each dose of beta blockers that reduce it temporarily. I microwave a single serve of porridge for breakfast and have some dried fruit, then I heat up one of the frozen meals I get delivered from Wiltshire Farm Foods and have it with a glass of juice in the evening (wish you could have seen the delivery driver's expression on the first day one of his 'old dears' turned out to be a disabled thirtysomething). It's healthier than supermarket readymeals, which don't tend to have the veg, and I save energy not having to cook or plan to cook, but it's pretty boring and I've no idea how I'll afford to keep it up when I'm finally migrated to ESA. It's scarely. It feels like you only just get your systems working and it's all change yet again!

  64. I suppose on the surface people might think I do OK food-wise. I'll often be heard on twitter or facebook talking about munching my way through some Doritos or an M&S veg bowl. But I have little choice in what I eat, my food choices are driven by three forces: what my voices dictate to me, my OCD and plain old-fashioned eating distress. Example: if I buy a cabbage, I have to soak it in steriliser and boil it up so much that any goodness has gone and it tastes of bleach, so I buy the M&S ready prepared version where I can try to convince myself it will have been washed properly and is OK for me to eat without boiling it down to a bleached mush. Horrible snack food [like Doritos] and processed rubbish is usually "safe" for me to eat, so I always have a supply handy. It's either that or don't eat at all, and I do sometimes go up to 7 days with no food for all these reasons and more.
    So yes, I get the expensive choices because they're the closest I can usually get to real nutrition, but I pay for it elsewhere. With all my budget going on expensive food I haven't paid my electricity bill for 3 months: the trick is to keep giving them a new meter reading so they send you a new bill and they don't treat it as a late payment. Also in that time I have paid barely any rent [I am required to pay a small amount of service charge per week despite the HB] hoping my housing association will think I'm just a new tenant trying to find my feet and I'll pay when I get unpacked. I do have a TV [no sky, just free channels] but recently cancelled my TV licence direct debit and am waiting for the knock on my door from the man in the black coat who interviews me under caution whereupon I will smile sweetly and apologise profusely and beg them to give me just a couple of weeks to sort out what must have been a "banking error".
    I appreciate that those with families don't have the privilege to juggle things like rent and electricity in the way I do as a single person, but collectively whether we choose to juggle the electricity bill or the contents of the freezer, we shouldn't have to!

    I totally agree with the Jamie Oliver idea, this is exactly the thing he'd get involved with.

  65. Sainsbury's has just come down to this level, but (with some cutbacks) you can do it for £30 from Lidls.
    It's a shame that the government support barely stretches to £50 for a couple's food as it is.
    I mean, couple's Jobseekers is something like £90 a week? With food, transport, clothing, heating and electric and water bills (not inclusive AFAIK in Housing Benefit), additional rent costs on top of HSA (ours are over £100 a month), medical care in some cases, laundry, toiletries, bills for a phone or computer to stay in contact with the world, occasional breakages and crises, not to mention actual entertainment and things like family birthdays, how does £90 cover two people?
    Let alone those who CANNOT find work because of their location, age, weight, health, disability, intelligence, training levels...

  66. I'm in group 2 (and yes I'm a stock simmerer- I can't stand to see a carcass wasted when it can be boiled up for stock!).

    I used to live off processed crap (again when I was an undergrad) but now I try to cook from scratch as eating well helps keep my depression at bay and allows me to control additives and control IBS-causing ingredients. In addition I have to weight my meals heavily on the protein side, as the antidepressants I'm on cause me blood sugar issues that mean I have crashes and turn into a bear with a sore head and claws on her tongue!

    My starch of choice is pasta, though I always have a bag of 'basics' rice in so that any large quantities of milk can go to a large rice pudding instead of going down the drain sour. I also buy in large quantities of plain flour, butter, lard and caster sugar for making bread, cakes and pastry for pies and pasties.

    I also grew my own potatoes, carrots and other fruit and veg,. But have lost that opportunity since I had to leave that house (which was a irony 'cos I was the only one in the house that strived to pay the bills and the rent, while the ex sat on his bum and moaned). I miss my garden, it was more than a source of food, it was a sanctuary and a meditation.

    At this moment in time can make £50 stretch 10 days for 2 people (including toiletries, other non-food groceries and cat food), but it is a life stripped to the bone. I have previously had to feed myself for a week on £5. I did it but it is horrific to think that this will not be the only time I will have to do this and that I am not the only person in this country who will have to face this.

    Poverty doesn't exist in this country? I'm sorry you affluent snobs snorting in derision, but it does; read this page to learn of what life is like stripped to the bone. Even better get down out of your ivory towers and try living this life yourselves, then you can aspire to hold an opinion.

  67. Lol. I've been living on Option 2 for years now. Every-one, apart from shopping at Lidl. I get by with Tesco. I thought that was just what people did.

    Though admittedly I don't have a family of 4. More like feeding a family of two adults on £30 a week. I think it roughly multiplies out though.

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  69. To "Anonymous" who said "but in theory food is fairly cheap" - in REALITY, it's not. I'd love to know where they are that food is really cheap, and what the quality of the food is like. And where they get their information at a time when we know that food prices increased 15% between Oct 2010 and Jan 2011, and that was before the VAT increase and inflation going up.

    One thing no one has mentioned - and it happens - is shoplifting. Has no one here been reduced to that?

    It's all well and good too talking about taking free food that stores throw out but really, how many of us can scale walls? Be realistic, please!

    The letters I get from the DWP always say "this is the money the Government says you can live on" but the Government hasn't the first clue, especially when their monthly food allowance alone equals my entire monthly Income Support, which pays for food, gas, electric, laundry, cleaning materials, telephone, TV, internet, travel, clothing, paper, ink, postage, etc. etc. (all things that MPs can legally - or with a bit of false accounting - claim back) plus shortfall on housing and council tax benefits, and paying off debt.

    In addition, I live in London, and there's no London Weighting for benefit claimants.

    The whole point is that we shouldn't HAVE to be scrimping and scrounging for the reduced deals, buying limp veg and foods fast approaching their best-by dates, eating foods loaded with salt and fats, or shopping at places that don't offer the range that bigger stores do. We shouldn't be in the position where we have to choose between feeding ourselves and turning on the heat, denying ourselves the occasional treat or just going without because we need our five-a-day.

    The fact that so many people on this thread are seemingly happy - okay, not happy, but continue - to do so and are proud of it rather than protesting at a system that keeps them trapped in this position is, as Sue says, quite shameful.

  70. MRadclyffe: 'It's all well and good too talking about taking free food that stores throw out but really, how many of us can scale walls? Be realistic, please!'

    I don't usually climb walls, just wander round the back of a shop at 2am. I did say 'of course it won't work for all disabled people', but for me, that's real life.

    Bins have saved me from going hungry, particularly when I've been too unwell to cope with forms and negotiating benefits, or even to realise how much I needed help.
    Mind, I reckon if you asked most people why a mentally ill woman was rooting through bins in a dodgy area in the middle of the night, they'd put it down as a symptom, not as another way of trying to stay alive against this fucked-up system.

  71. Sainsbury's is pretty blatant in that it actually has a traffic light to advertise the fact that its cheapo humous (not actually that much cheaper) is less healthy, but its own definition, than its standard humous. I think I'll email them about that, and ask for the vegan version of their 50 quid list (they didn't even indicate that they've done a vegetarian option!).

    I find visits to Sainsbury's quite annoying, the number of items that could be suitable for vegans (and taste just the same) if they didn't have superstitious beliefs about adding gelatine and eggs and dairy products to things which don't need them! And don't get me started on their using sugar as a cheap and nasty filler in savoury products. I pointed out to them that people who want sugar in savoury products can always add it, but I cannot subtract it. They were quite rude, all "we sell tomatoes, make your own tomato pasta sauce from scratch".

  72. On many occasions I've had no option but to rummage through the bins of supermarkets for food, or not eat, and I'm pretty much in that situation again.
    My mental illness has buggered up my finances, and any attempt of mine to sort them out results in a worsening of my head, no win.

    I'm your 2nd type of person, for I can't eat food the doesn't taste/feel like food and most cheap stuff doesn't.
    I tend to make tonnes of vegetable soup and ratatouie when I am feeling well(ish) and freeze them. Cooking in bulk is a little cheaper, and it means that on bad days (or weeks) I can still eat as I need only to microwave a tub, and maybe put some bread or rice with it.

    Skip based soup, sounds gross but it's been a lifesaver.

  73. I'm actually really quite surprised they think £50 a week is low. To my mind tha is £200+ a month, and then on top of that you've got drinks, toiletries, cleaning stuff etc.

    I am queen of making do and getting creative. Did you know, if you're at the rationing-the-electricity stage of the month (assuming you're on a prepay meter) and can't afford to buy more of anything, you can bulk out a tasty and filling pasta or rice topping using porridge oats? Brown off an onion or 2, including the green sprouting bit if like me you've had the onions slowly rationed out over a couple of months. Add a pinch of salt, up to a cup of whatever frozen veg remain in the freezer and add a cup of porridge oats towards the end of cooking, just long enough to toast them. If you make extra topping, chuck it in a blender with beans, lentils or other pulses soaked overnight, flour and a spoonful of concentrated stock and you can make "meatballs"!

  74. Came to this through your link. It is rather depressing to see my life described in this way :)

    We are feeding three on considerably less than £50 a week. It can be done; but it's not fun.

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