Living below the line

live below the line logo

Next week my family and I will be joining thousands of people across the country and internationally to take part in the Live Below the Line challenge.

For five days from Monday 28 April to Friday 2 May, each of us will spend £1 a day on our food and drink. When you say it like that it doesn’t sound all that bad. But think about it. Think about what you consume in a day and tot it up. You could easily blow a pound on a frothy coffee on the way into work. This is going to be a tough challenge.

So why are we doing it? The aim is to raise awareness and change the way people in the West think about extreme poverty. The £1 a day figure is the UK equivalent of the international extreme poverty line. It’s a hideous fact that 1.2 billion people across the world struggle to meet their daily needs on less than a pound.

Save the Children
One year old Shamsia is being treated for severe acute malnutrition at an inpatient stabilisation centre funded by Save the Children in Niger. Photo: Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children

You might perhaps think that £1 a day is likely to go much further overseas but that’s not the case. For the five days, we might only get to spend £1 a day on food and drink, yet for people really living on the poverty line this would have to stretch so much further, also covering lodging, healthcare, travel and education. While for us the challenge is going to be hard, it will undoubtedly reveal just how lucky my family and I are.

Initially I was going to do the challenge on my own. Last year I got involved in a very little way by publishing a few recipes on the blog for others taking part in Live Below the Line; things like megadarra with roasted broccoli, spicy bean burgers and a virgin bloody Mary soup using value tinned tomatoes. Coming up with the odd cheap dish is one thing but this year I wanted to do more.

At first, I thought it would be unfair to make my family do it with me but it seemed to me that for families genuinely living in poverty, there’s no choice about these things and it’s only five days after all. It’ll be a good learning experience for my kids, won’t it? And we’ll be able to make £4 a day between four of us go further than £1 a day just for me.

My husband really isn’t keen. When I officially signed us up yesterday, he looked horrified.

“But we talked about this last week,” I said.

“I remember talking about it, but I don’t remember actually agreeing to anything,” came  his reply.

Funny how we all remember things differently.

Jessie, my nine year old, seems quite up for it but I wonder what she’ll think when the reality kicks in she can’t reach for a snack whenever she fancies one. Mia, the six year old, isn’t really sure what it’s all about but didn’t look impressed when she heard she’s unlikely to be seeing any meat or chocolate next week.

As a food blogger and a foodie family, food is important to us on so many levels. As well as a source of fuel and nourishment, it’s also a huge source of pleasure and conversation. What have we let ourselves in for?

Sponsor us and support Save the Children

Everyone taking part in Live Below the Line is fundraising for their charity of choice. We’ve chosen to support Save the Children. If you would like to sponsor our efforts, you can do so online here. Every penny will help Save the Children in their life-saving work with children and their families around the world.

What will we eat?

I’ll be putting my meal plan together and shopping for our family’s £20 worth of ingredients on Sunday. I think I might give Aldi a go, as everyone tells me their prices are the cheapest around. I’ve never shopped there before as I generally do grocery shopping online but I want to go in person as I’m hoping to pick up a few specials from the bargain aisle.

I suspect there will be quite a lot of rice, beans, pulses and frozen vegetables on our shopping list. Thankfully there are heaps of recipe resources on the Live Below the Line website and I reckon I might get an idea or two from A Girl Called Jack.

If you have any suggestions for cheap and cheerful dishes, I’d love to hear from you. Oh and my local butcher has promised me a free chicken carcass or two, so if you have any ideas for what to do with the chicken stock let me know.

We’ll keep you posted on how things are working out. Wish us luck!

Fair and square: free school meals for all children in poverty

School dinners should be a fundamental part of going to school for all children, shouldn't they?

As regular readers of this blog will know, it’s important to me to feed my family well but I don’t want to spend a fortune in the process. Quite simply, I can’t afford to. As a self-employed mother whose partner works as a teaching assistant, we don’t have a huge budget to spend on food.

However I still have considerably more money to spend on food than many families in the UK today.

According to the Children’s Society there are around 1.2 million children living in poverty in this fine land of ours who are probably not getting a single nutritious meal all day.

This statistic makes me feel sick to the core. How can we as a civilised society allow this to happen?

The Children’s Society has launched a campaign called Fair and Square, which aims to ensure that all children in need of a free school meal receive one. Free school meals are a crucial entitlement for families living in poverty, ensuring that children from the lowest income families get a least one warm and nutritious meal in the middle of the day.

When I was at primary school, I was a free school meals kid. I didn’t realise it at the time, but these meals were a real safety net.

Staggeringly, around a third of children in poverty are not entitled to free school meals (around 700,ooo children) because their parents are in paid work. Children of parents working 16 hours or more a week are not entitled to free school meals – regardless of how little their parents earn. This is shocking.

And another 500,000 children don’t take up their entitlement to free school meals. This can be for all kinds of reasons, including the quality of the meals themselves and issues around teasing and bullying.

I remember getting teased about being on free school meals when I was little. I found it so embarrassing. At the start of each week, our class teacher would call out our names and those who had to pay would take their dinner money up to him. When he got to my name, and the names of others in the same position, he’d announce “FREE” in the most derogatory of tones I’d want the ground to swallow me up. So I can see why people would rather avoid going through that public humiliation.

I am urging everyone I know and who reads this blog to get behind the Children’s Society Fair and Square campaign. Please join their call on government by signing their petition and spread the word any way you can to ensure that our poorest children get the free school meals they need to survive.

The problem is, this current situation could get worse under the new Universal Credit benefit system, which the government is introducing from 2013. Some families may be worse off if they take on more hours or get a pay rise as a result of the loss of free school meals. Analysis by the Children’s Society indicates this could affect 120,000 families with 350,000 school-aged children.

Sign the petition to ask the government to change the criteria for free school meals so all children in poverty get them. They’re much more likely to listen if they see how many people think the situation is unfair and needs to change. It only takes a couple of minutes and we all get behind the campaign this could add up to a big change for our poorest school children.

Giving children in poverty a free school meal makes sense on every level. They can help children stay healthy and learn. And they can help families escape the poverty trap faced by parents trying to move into employment by making sure that work always ‘pays’.

Free school meals on average are worth nearly £10 a week or about £370 a year. The prospect of losing this benefit creates a massive barrier for parents if they want to move into work or take on additional hours, particularly if they have more than one more child in school. (The Children’s Society ‘Fair and Square’ campaign report)

So once again, please do sign the petition and help spread the word. I am one of those kids who once needed free school meals, and I want to help make sure that the children today who need them are also given that right.

For more information about the Children’s Society’s Fair and Square campaign please visit