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Question Of The Day

Could You Live on £53 a Week?

"Coffee is like three quid, so that'd go out the window."
April 4, 2013, 3:13pm

After Monday's welfare reform and the huge slashes to benefits they entailed, a man named David Bennett went on the radio, claimed he's forced to live off £53 a week – or £7.50 a day – and challenged welfare minister Iain Duncan Smith to do the same before he started cutting benefits with apparently no thought to how that would affect day-to-day living for Britain's poorest – you know, minor details like paying for a roof over your head or buying food so you don't die of starvation.

Since then, a petition for IDS to do just that has picked up 423,000 signatures, but he dismissed the challenge, claiming he knew he could survive off that little because he's been unemployed twice and knows what it's like to "live on the breadline". A breadline that was considerably higher before he destroyed it and lowered the amount of welfare people can receive. Considering Iain's never going to go for the challenge, I figured I'd walk around London's financial area and ask some other wealthy people whether they reckoned they could live off £53 a week.

Louise, banker: No – there's no way. I definitely couldn’t survive on that amount a week.

VICE: If you had to, though, what sort of things would you sacrifice?
Well, I'd definitely have to move out of London.

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What else?
I’d have to stop eating out, for sure. You’d just have to make all your own food – breakfast, lunch and dinner. And a coffee is like three quid, easily, so that's out the window. I think I could only really use the money to buy food, to be honest.

Would you like to see Iain Duncan Smith try to live off £53?
Wait, who's that? I don’t know the name.

He’s the Tory Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, so he's effectively the guy who introduced the welfare reform.
Oh, OK. Well, if he has everything already – like, he must have a house – if his £53 was just used for groceries and essential day-to-day things, then maybe he could live off it. But if you were stuck with nothing at all, it would be impossible.

Adam, lawyer: Err, no, I don’t think so. It’s just not that much money, is it?

It's not. What would you cut out if you had to live on that?
Pretty much everything. It’d be bread and water for me. It's definitely possible to live off £53 a week but it would be tough. I don't think it's a way that anyone should have to live their life.

Do you reckon Iain Duncan Smith could do it?
Oh, I'd love to see him try. Actually, I'd love to see him try to live off less. I think it'd be a struggle for him, but he could probably do it if he tried – not as long as people on benefits have to, but he could if he really tried. I’d like to see him do it for a couple of years, then he can pass judgement.

Paul, banker: No, no way.

Why's that?
Well, because two thirds of that is my travel, for a start.

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Woah. Where do you commute from?
I live in Zone 2 and I work in Zone 2, and it’s still £30 a week.

Do you think it’s possible to live a decent life off that little money?
Not in the current climate, no. Most people aren’t getting increases in their wages, but because of inflation services are getting more expensive. For example, my friend who works in the building trade is earning the same amount of money now as he was ten years ago when he was an apprentice. People aren’t earning any more money but things are getting more expensive. So yeah, it’s hard for everyone.

Andrew, banker: Off £53 a week? Well, as you can see I'm smoking, so I can imagine it would be pretty hard.

Do you think it’s possible to live off that much?
If it didn’t include rent, then I think it would be possible, but you’d have to lead a really, really simple lifestyle.

How about IDS?
Well, if he already had a place to live with a minimal amount of stuff… But as I said before, he’d have to lead a simple lifestyle and make a lot of sacrifices. I’m not sure if many people would be able to do it.

Jean, retired: Only if you had no other expenses so it was just food. But for heating, a roof over your head, clothing and all that other general stuff? No, I'd find it extremely difficult.

What kind of sacrifices do you think you’d have to make if you had to do it yourself?
Well, heating, bills, electricity – all those sorts of general bills if you’re running a household – you wouldn’t be able to pay them unless you got some sort of hand-out or were subsidised by the council, or something.

Do you think you’d have to eat completely differently as well?
Oh yes, you’d have to live off the basics – the staples – definitely not luxury food.

Previously - What Would Your Life Be Like Without a Mobile Phone?