Final Instalment of Living Below the Line (originally published January 18, 2012)
First of all, we are both terribly sorry for being quite so awful at following up the final phase of us living on £1 a day. It has been playing on our conscience for a long time, made worse by all the media attention to the crisis in East Africa. We have no excuses, but at least finally, we’re doing it!
So, why did we live on £1 a day for 5 weeks?
We have both, at numerous times, met people who are forced to live below the poverty line and it never gets easier to see. It is bandied around the news and media, but the reality of experiencing it is so far removed that it is impossible for any of us to really appreciate what it is like to be chronically hungry or starving. When we saw the campaign for people to live on £1 a day for 5 days we wanted to do it, but felt that 5 days was no where near enough to really even begin to experience the challenge – physically, emotionally or practically. So we said we’d do it for a month – of course not realising that the month we’d chosen was actually 5 weeks! We wanted to do it for numerous reasons. Not just to experience it and make it more personal, but to raise awareness of what it’s like (relatively) through telling people about it and to raise money for an organisation who strives to educate people in issues of poverty and development all the time. See below for their description of why the £1 a day was chosen and launched – it’s much better than anything we could write!
What was it like?
Making the most of every meal!
The only way we can describe what it is like to live below the line is horrible. If that was our lot forever, we for one would find it incredibly hard to put a smile on our faces each day. It sounds like we’re exaggerating, but honestly, we’re not! From talking to lots of people about what we were doing, it was interesting to see how many people thought it didn’t sound too hard -”it’s okay, just eat beans on toast” for example. What they didn’t realise was that the effects lag.
As with most challenges, the first part was not too bad. We had the motivation and enthusiasm, coupled with the ignorance of not knowing what it would end up like! We found it exciting trying to work out what food we could buy, what we could make with that food and how to spread our purchases across all the major food groups in order to make it as nutritionally viable as possible. We even created a special spread sheet to work it all out! It was quite fun going around the supermarket working out which products were better value for money, feeling awkward when all our shopping was simple and “bad for you”, and then making our crazy concoctions.
However, slowly but surely this novelty wore off and it became a chore, a constant worry, and a drag.
We very quickly gave up on trying to get a balanced diet. It was impossible to eat any fruit and the only vegetables we could afford was a pinch of the cheapest frozen veg every now and again. Protein and calcium were treats. This was one of the first things we realised about the diets of a lot of people living below the line. For example, from the areas we know more about the basic diets consist of starchy carbohydrates from either corn, rice or cassava (parts of Africa) and more rice and wheat (S.E. Asia). Not only is this nutritionally limiting but so incredibly boring. We know that variety is a luxury, but it is one that the majority of ‘rich’ people take for granted. We were fed up of eating yellow looking carbohydrate-heavy and tasteless food!
On an average day, we consumed 1000 calories. Despite being able to top this up every weekend with our 2 meals of luxury, our energy levels plummeted. We became lethargic, apathetic and grumpy. Our jobs involved us sitting down all day working at computers. This was another realisation – for those whom this is a way of life (at the risk of making assumptions) work usually consists of manual labour, farming or something that requires far more energy than we were using. And we were exhausted. We felt so unhealthy and while it may sound ridiculous, the spark of life just wasn’t there by the end of it.
The End Result
Through living below the line, we hoped to raise awareness about just how difficult it is to buy and make everything you need to eat and drink when living below the poverty line and from our experience we have realised just how draining it is, especially over time. It is quite difficult to fathom that people have to constantly live like this whilst also working incredibly hard in other aspects of life and we believe nobody should have to. We hope that what we have done has helped raise awareness of the struggles faced by many and that the money you have all donated helps RESULTS UK to carry this on.
We raised over £600 and could not have done it without your generous donations and continual support – even the constant cries of “you’re absolutely crazy!” helped to keep us going! The Live Below the Line 2012 challenge has just opened for registration and we thoroughly recommend you give it a go if you fancy doing something different and worthwhile this year. It was a tough old challenge but it pushed us in ways we had never thought about and it was incredibly satisfying to complete – http://www.livebelowtheline.org.uk/
Here’s to us all doing our bit to end food poverty.
Thank you all.
Dan and Beth
RESULTS UK BLOG from last year’s launch of Live Below the Line which explains far better why £1 and what it means:
Live Below the Line is an incredible new awareness and fundraising campaign that’s making a huge difference in the fight against extreme poverty and RESULTS is proud to be a major partner in the initiative.
Quite simply, it allows thousands of people in the Global North to better understand the daily challenges faced by those trapped in the cycle of extreme poverty, and builds a movement of passionate people willing and able to make a meaningful difference for those who need it most.
The week of Live Below the Line is a week like no other. From 2-6 May, thousands of people across the UK will spend just £1 each day on food, and use their daily experiences to bring extreme poverty to the centre of conversation in homes and workplaces. We’ll all be challenged, we’ll struggle without caffeine, and have a faint feeling of being not quite full for the whole week. We’ll pool money with other people who are also living below the line – housemates, colleagues or family – to make that pound stretch just a little further…
We’ll do all of this because whilst we choose to struggle to Live Below the Line for one week, there are 1.4 billion people who have no choice other than to do it every day. “It’s not that bad,” you might say – “£1 goes a lot further in developing countries.”
Unfortunately not. The £1 figure represents the amount someone living in extreme poverty in the UK would have to live on.
And for people who live in extreme poverty that £1 has to cover far more than food and drink – we’re talking everything – health, housing, transport, food, education… It’s impossible to imagine, but it’s the incomprehensible reality for an incredible number of people.
At RESULTS we help ordinary people across the UK to gain knowledge on how to end poverty, and turn that knowledge into real changes in policy, spending, and ultimately results for ending poverty.
A quarter of the world’s population lives on less than £1 a day. Tonight 800 million people will go to bed hungry. Today, over 4,000 people will die from tuberculosis. For some the idea of a world free from hunger and poverty seems an implausible and impossible dream. We disagree.
We work on a variety of different issues, of which tuberculosis (TB) is but one. One of our successes was on World TB Day, the 24th of March 2010, when the UK government announced £8 million of new funding for Aeras, a non-profit organization working on developing a vaccine for TB that actually works. The vaccine we use today is virtually ineffective and is one reason why TB remains such a killer. Peg Willingham from Aeras wrote:
I just wanted to express the gratitude of our entire organization to RESULTS UK for your help and advice over the past several years – we literally could not have achieved this grant without you. Thanks to you, we were able to connect with important stakeholders in the UK, and we also are grateful for your advocacy in general about the importance of new tools to prevent, treat, diagnose and ultimately eradicate TB.
We are encouraging all RESULTS activists and friends, young and old, new and veteran, to take up this challenge and help raise awareness of extreme poverty, whilst raising money for RESULTS to continue our fight against it. Sign up now at www.livebelowtheline.org.uk/resultsuk