WHAT can you buy for £1 these days, a bottle of pop, or a chocolate bar? It certainly doesn’t buy you much any more, that’s for sure.
Yet 1.6 million children across the UK are surviving on £1 a day – which the World Bank classes as ‘poverty’.
Closer to home, nearly 1-in-5 Blackpool children are living in severe poverty, making the town one of the worst in the country for under-privileged kids, according to charity Save The Children.
That means 6,000 children go hungry in the resort, an overwhelmingly worrying figure.
I decided that reading numbers and digesting statistics isn’t the best way to understand the plight of 1.4 billion people worldwide...it would be better to experience it for myself. I’ve been taking part in the Live Below The Line challenge, an initiative launched by the Global Poverty Project UK, fronted by Aussie actor Hugh Jackman.
The challenge is simple enough: to live on just £5 for five days to raise awareness of global poverty.
When I went vegan for one month for The Gazette in January, my partner decided to do it with me. This time she said: “No way, it can’t be done.”
A 15-stone lad in my mid-20s, I definitely like my food. So I knew that this challenge would really test me. I’ve never watched the pennies when I’ve shopped for food. I normally pick up the branded option because “it tastes better”, despite the fact I’ve never tasted the un-branded choice.
But shopping in the full knowledge this fiver – that wouldn’t even buy one takeaway pizza – had to last me the week changed my habits immediately. I made every penny count, and as my partner was stocking up on digestion-aiding yoghurts and thick, ridge-cut crisps, I was searching for basics that would last me for more than one meal.
Rather than buying my week’s worth in one shop, I hunted down the bargains by traipsing round, searching for reduced priced items or specialist suppliers.
I went to the market for my vegetables and to a discount store for my tinned goods. I bought the supermarket’s own brand of bread and spent my last 10p on a packet of out-of-date crisps. However, I had no money for drink, not even milk. I couldn’t afford butter either, so I faced a week of dry toast for breakfast. But I should be lucky I had breakfast, because some people simply can’t afford it.
Throughout the week, I repeatedly went hungry. I was inventive with the food I bought, and I was left with nothing at the end, so there was no waste, but it wasn’t enough to stop my stomach rumbling so loud that numerous people thought it was thundering.
One thing that did cause concern, was the lack of healthy food in the diet. Sure, there was no pizza or kebabs, but there was no fruit and barely enough vegetables. I was lucky to get five a week, never mind five a day.
It begs the question: are we getting fatter as a nation not just because of the ease of junk food, but also because of the price? A bag of chips will set you back around 95p, whereas three peppers cost double that.
Recognising the problem of poverty is one thing, but what causes it and how do we solve it? Since the government pledged to end child poverty in 1998, 550,000 children have since been taken out of it. However, with current government cuts, there are fears the numbers might rise again.
Gwen King, Chairman of the Queen’s Park Residents’ Association, Layton, said: “People in poverty are being overlooked and there isn’t support for them – and the economy isn’t helping.
“There are no jobs. Blackpool’s such a transitory town and we only have a six-month economy. We can’t just rely on tourism and on being a service town – we need a manufacturing industry and more blue and white-collar jobs.
“The government could make this an enterprise zone, and offer financial incentives to new businesses to help create those jobs.”
Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard added: “The best way to tackle poverty is to increase income, widen employment opportunities and ensure the most vulnerable are protected.”
A spokesman for Save the Children said: “The government must ensure that where there are high levels of severe child poverty that the creation of jobs is focused on those areas, and that those jobs pay a decent wage.”
Sure Start, the government childcare initiative that aids deprived families and helps parents get back into education or work, has had £500,000 worth of cuts in Blackpool alone, including the proposed closure of the children’s centre on Grenfell Avenue, Layton, described as “a terrific blow”, says Gwen. “The parents don’t always have many life skills, and they rely on Sure Start for help and support if they have a problem,” she said. “Sometimes they just need someone to talk to.”
My week has taught me just how hard being in poverty is, and more importantly, to appreciate what I’ve got. The government has the power to end poverty in Blackpool and the UK, and hopefully they’ll exercise that power soon.