Frugal living

In these cash-strapped times, it’s good to see the Daily Mail doing their bit by recycling used articles! Those clever journalists saw that this article from five years ago, about a teacher beating the credit crunch by living on £1 a day for a drunken bet, was just perfect for this Thursday’s edition, revealing that Iain Duncan Smith was right! – You can live on £53 a week!* I’m off to follow Kath Kelly’s example, and find myself a free lunch at my local church jumble sale, before picking a handful of lovely apples and cherries, and then finding £100 in change on the ground!

*Of course, the cynical amongst us may think that maybe Kath Kelly is the only person they’ve managed to find in the last five years who is happily subsisting on such meagre rations, because, oh yes – she did it for a bet. And wrote a book about it afterwards. And wasn’t doing it because she had no other option. Tosh, I say!

11 thoughts on “Frugal living

  1. “I could still do it, parents would find it more difficult agreeably but it’s still do-able. There are plenty of people around who do it. ‘Things have gone up in price but in this climate the items are still available, you just have to know where to get them from. ‘I have every confidence that somebody can put their mind to it and do it easily…It is more difficult when you have a family, I was single when I lived off £1 a day, but I still think you could do it.”

    Dunning-Kruger effect?

  2. I hate to be a downer, but surely there’s no debate here: of course people could live on less than £53 per week. The great majority of people *do* live on less than £53 per week, PPP adjusted (even more so if that doesn’t include housing benefits, which I think is the case). And an estimated 1.4 billion people *do* live on less than £1 a day, PPP adjusted (in countries where there isn’t the same healthcare system, infrastructure, valuable waste etc. that’s available in the US, UK, and other developed nations, such that it’s hard to even draw a fair comparison). So it’s hardly plausible that Kath Kelly is the only person they could have found that manages to subsist on such ‘meagre rations’! Maybe it’s undesirable to live on less than £53 a week, but if we think that’s the case, it seems like our focus shouldn’t really be on UK benefits recipients.

  3. Yes, of course there are lots of people having to do it, (My parents, for example.) Notice I said ‘happily’ subsisting. And no, the real debate isn’t about whether or not it’s *possible* to live on £53 a week. The real issue behind the debate is the fact that the Tories are slowly dismantling the welfare state, making it harder and harder for the people at the bottom, whilst the rich – as the old saying goes – get richer. Helped by the propaganda-spewing hate machine that is the Daily Mail. Of course, there are huge wealth disparities between folks in the UK and folks elsewhere in the world. But the Tories’ dismantling of the welfare state isn’t helping those people. And if we don’t make a noise about the gov’s actions whilst there’s still time to do so, then we’ll see people in the UK living in as dire poverty as people in so-called developing nations. (In fact, there are already such people here – homeless folks, refused refugees who can’t return home, and so on.)

  4. I think we agree on the first part then (that it’s possible, but that it could be the case that it’s undesirable to some degree). The thing that threw me was that the ‘can’ sentence seemed sarcastic but didn’t refer to happiness. But let’s suppose that £53 per week would preclude a lot of people from existing happily. Then although the policy change might not help the poor, it still seems odd to focus on it if we think that the vast majority of people are not happily subsisting, since presumably those subsisting far below that level are even less happy. I mean, £53 per week even if that was supposed to cover housing would leave you in the top 25% wealthiest people I think. When I was on benefits I got both jobseekers allowance and very low housing benefits, that put me into the top 15% of wealthiest people. So the worry I’m expressing is just one of prioritization. If the top 25% wealthiest people in the US were about to lose some benefit and there were the same public attention and outcry, I imagine people would have similar things to say: this might be bad for them, but if they can’t be happy on this amount then we have way bigger problems to deal with, and by making this group out to be comparatively poor we mislead people about the nature of poverty. Finally, there’s a worry that we’re overly focused on the worst things that we see around us, which is a bad thing if we happen to be surrounded by a very privileged group of people.

    Anyway, those are just my worries whenever these stories come up – they’re not supposed to be damning criticism or anything, just concerns about the message we send when we focus on comparably low incomes in a developed world context. But one point I’m not sure I agree on is that we will or do see people living in as dire poverty in the UK as we do in developed nations (assuming you mean the poor in those nations, and not the wealthiest). I was thinking about it, and it seems genuinely hard to live on less than £1 a day in the UK if we bear in mind that this isn’t the same as spending £1 a day or earning £1 a day, but consuming £1 worth of stuff in a day. So suppose I don’t consume any NHS healthcare (I’d need to to stay below £1 a day) and don’t take donations from people or any benefits assistance. If I use up shelter and take food from bins that people would be willing to pay more than £1 for in total if there were a market for it, then I would be living on more than £1 a day. It doesn’t seem implausible that this would be very difficult to do in the UK even if one is homeless (I don’t know about the situation with refused refugees, so perhaps it is worse?). That’s not to say that the situation of these people isn’t *terrible* – it is. But it doesn’t seem true that the two kinds of dire poverty are equivalent. I guess a test for this might be to ask whether you’d rather live as a homeless person in the UK, or a very poor person in a developing nation. Surely it seems clear that we’d prefer the former?

  5. I have to disagree with you. If what was at stake was the redistribution of global wealth so as to raise the living standards of the global poor, then the comparisons you draw would be relevant. But I think that comparing the UK poor to the global poor in this context diverts attention from the real issue which is at stake here: the dismantling of the welfare state in a country where the gap between the richest and the poorest has increased in recent years, with the richest getting steadily richer. Cutting UK people’s benefits isn’t going to make things better for the global poor. It’s just going to make things worse for the poorest people in the UK. And it seems kind of obscene to me, given the context, to tell the UK poor that they should be content with their lot because there are other folks elsewhere who are loads poorer than they are.

  6. I’m not sure what it is that you disagree with me on. The only reason that I drew a comparison between the very poor in the UK and the global poor is because you said that you thought that the very poor in the UK lived lives akin to those in the developing world, which I didn’t agree with. Is that the comparison you were referring to? Also, I never claimed that cutting UK benefits would divert money to the developing world (though interestingly the conservatives policies on aid have been pretty good I think) or that people who are in the top 25% in terms of wealth should be ‘content with their lot’. As you say, there may be a threshold for sufficient happiness that isn’t reached until you’re in the category of being very wealthy indeed (like the top 10% wealthiest people, who earn above about £8,000 a year per household member). My point was just that *if* we think that the threshold is as high as this, then the issue of benefits cuts to UK citizens looks like a very minor one when it comes to unhappiness caused by insufficient wealth, since these people are among the worlds wealthiest. And I think this should be reflected in our discussion of these issues for the reasons I gave above. Perhaps you think that the most important worry with this policy is that it will increase inequality. I think that the same points would apply with respect to global inequality, but the point about absolute wealth would still stand regardless. Anyway, putting these issues in their proper context or noting that we might give undue attention to ‘first world problems’ clearly isn’t the same thing as saying we should ignore those issues, or saying they’re not issues at all.

  7. The point of disagreement between us is your framing of the problem in relation to global incomes. The comparisons I am referring to are your references to UK wealth indexed to global incomes.

    As I’ve already said, I do not think this is ‘the proper context’ in which to view the matter, but a way of diverting attention from the real issue: the dismantling of the welfare state in a country where there is a huge gap between the rich and poor.

    I did not attribute to you the claim that the current gov’s actions in dismantling the welfare state will make things better for the global poor. My point instead was that, the fact that there is no such direct link is partly why I think your framing of the issue is inappropriate.

  8. Why is it not appropriate to view these things from a global context? Suppose I were to say ‘obviously I’m very lucky to be in the top 15% of earners, but the removal of this tax break for those in my bracket would nonetheless be a bad thing’ instead of ‘the removal of this tax break from the poor is a bad thing’. Does the former statement obscure the issue? To me it just looks like I give extra information so that people know more about how important the issue is, so I don’t really understand how this obscures the real issue at all.

  9. Sorry, I was responding to your original comment there. I’m still not sure that this kind of thing needs to divert attention. It seems like it can be good to say that something is bad even if we’re just discussing bad things within a group of pretty privilaged people, especially if we’re asking questions like ‘can someone live on $n?’ My thought about why it’s useful to frame the problem like this globally where we can is that it has the benefit of not leading people to believe that what they hear about as ‘poverty’ when they see stories is really what’s reflected in the real world (would people give as much to charity if they thought that the ‘poor’ in the UK and US are representative of poverty? I suspect not.) Maybe you don’t think making that taking the time to make the implied context (a wealthy nation) explicit is worth these benefits. I guess I disagree with this, and I worry that disproportionately representing the relatively wealthy in topics about austerity and poverty without placing it in context might be socially harmful. But perhaps this is a disagreement would require to much weighing of the benefits on both sides to be sorted out here.

  10. In some ways, I’m in two minds about what we should call ‘poverty’. On the one hand, it’s obviously true that being poor is relative, so what counts as poor in the UK is very different from what counts as poor across the globe, and by calling the former ‘poverty’, we may be obscuring this difference in ways that are morally problematic. (Although, I still think there are some folks living in the UK who I would count as living in poverty, on this more restricted usage.) On the other hand, it’s often the case in discussions of this issue, that by comparing the standard of living enjoyed by the UK poor to that of the global poor, people’s attention is drawn away from the huge gap between rich and poor people living in the UK, which I think is a big injustice. So there is something to be said for applying the term ‘poverty’ to the UK poorest as it highlights this gap in wealth.

  11. It’s also the case that comparisons with the global poor are often wheeled out in situations where the UK poor are being made poorer. And it’s generally those with more money and power who make these comparisons, which is why I’m perhaps very sensitive to this way of looking at things.

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