Welfare reforms: Could I live on £53 per week?

Since Iain Duncan Smith claimed on Radio 4’s Today programme that he could do so, a petition has been launched asking him to put his money where his mouth is, so to speak. Now I penny pinch. As a freelancer, sometimes when I’m waiting for an invoice to be paid I have £3 to live on until it is paid, and I just have to hope that nothing happens, that I don’t have to go anywhere and that there is enough pasta in the cupboard until the invoice clears.

So what do I actually spend money on? Can I cut back to £53 pw? Now I have to confess that my major expense is my horse, which automatically means I could stop bleating about being broke. I mean I could sell him. Personally I view selling the horse in the same way most people view selling their children. However, for the purposes of this calculation let us assume that I don’t have a horse. I will also assume, naively I suspect, that rent is taken care of. So what are my other expenses?

I’m going to calculate this for a year. It evens out expenses as some bills are monthly, others quarterly and some are spread over 10 months of the year. And IDS has been asked to manage on £53 pw for a year. This is as it should be. Anyone can live on £53 a week for one week. You just put off the passport renewal, the hair cut, the dry cleaning and buying that train ticket for the trip to London next month. £2756 for a year presents different problems, especially when paid in fortnightly instalments. This means cash flow problems. It means not buying in bulk in advance, which is cheaper, because you don’t have the cash to buy in bulk. Well not unless you live on less than £53 per week and save as you go, which you might just manage if only you could buy things cheaply and in bulk. Oh.

I will take out the £21pcm I spend on contact lenses and eye care. Let us assume that for a year I will wear glasses only and that they won’t break and my prescription won’t change. Neither will I pay for any eye care. This actually presents a serious problem as I cannot leave the house without glasses or contacts but, well £2756 – £522 = £2504 so it already reduces me to £48.15 per week so I’ll nix the eye  care. Neither will I go to the dentist. Let’s just hope I don’t need to. After all, you can buy DIY dental kits in supermarkets these days. And there’s always a pair of pliers.

I will include internet access. If the government want me to be able to earn my own keep in future I will need the internet to job hunt. I could go to the local library and get this for free but they will only give me 30 minutes per day which frankly isn’t enough to find a job in the current market. It certainly isn’t enough to build up a freelance portfolio. To get the internet access I need a landline telephone even if I don’t actually phone anybody on it. This presents another problem. Since I have the internet, those nice people at TV licensing will make my life hell if I do not buy a TV licence on the grounds that I might have a device for watching the telly and I might be downloading programmes, evil lawbreaker than I am. I will also include a mobile phone. I realise that I cannot eat the phone but heck, even poor people need to communicate.

The good news is that I live in a studio flat. I am thinking of claiming a rebate on the bedroom tax since I don’t actually have a bedroom. Neither do I run a car so none of those lovely hard working tax payers will have to subsidise an overlarge house or my petrol, nasty scrounger that I am, at least for the purposes of this thought experiment. Also, please note, the council tax bill is 20% of the bill for my property. Since the government’s changes, Exeter City Council will give a maximum 80% discount. Otherwise if you’re on JSA, ESA, universal credit or just plain dead, you have to find 20% from somewhere. Just mug a city banker, I promise karma won’t mind.

So here are the sums for per annum expenses:

Electric and gas                                 480.00

Water                                                   312.00

Council tax                                          197.93

Telephone                                          180.00

TV                                                         145.50*

Internet                                               102.00

Mobile phone                                       60.00

Total expenditure                             1477.43

Annual income                                 2756.00

Balance                                                1278.57

* There is a slight problem here. That’s the cheapest option. If you pay weekly it might be more expensive. Things generally are.

This leaves me £24.12 per week for food and anything else once my basic bills are paid. Now I know I can get by on that, although I would be quite miserable. I don’t have a problem with buying second hand clothes and I can go years between haircuts. I know which household goods are cheaper in Wilkinsons and I avoid the Poundshop (Oh look, it’s only a pound, buy it! Errm, no, you don’t need it and it’s cheaper elsewhere). I know which of the Sainsbury’s Basics range are cheaper by weight and which are in a smaller packet so look cheaper but actually cost more per kilo. I know when yellow sticker time is. I doubt IDS knows what it is.

I could manage if I had to and if, for the entire year, nothing went wrong, I never went out and I didn’t need a prescription or a new pair of shoes. In short, I could manage if I obeyed Kinnock’s warning not to be young, ill, old or ordinary. IDS wouldn’t manage and watching him try would achieve little. It certainly wouldn’t increase the empathy of anyone in the Tory party. And that is the real problem. They don’t care whether or not they could manage on £53 pw because they have an unshakeable belief that it won’t happen to them. They believe this because they think that only the feckless need state handouts and they don’t think they are feckless.

What the average Tory politician, and the entire cabinet, do not realise is that the Welfare State is not there for the benefit of feckless scroungers. It is there for the benefit of all of us. It is there so that if you are young, old, ill or just ordinary there is a safety net to prevent you from starving on the streets. It should provide education and health care for all and a basic standard of living for those who cannot work. And if you never actually use the Welfare State at least remember this – your world is still better for its existence because you are not plagued by the crime that results from the hungry, impoverished, ill and uneducated trying to scratch a living. You benefit by living in a society that is kind enough and decent enough to care for its weakest members.

Except that we no longer do this. This vile excuse for a government quite deliberately whips up ill feeling by creating a false dichotomy between hard workers and benefit scroungers, as if no hard worker ever found themselves out of work. By labelling anyone needing state aid as a scrounger they have legitimised their moves to take away that aid. They are dismantling the Welfare State and using a rhetoric of hatred and disgust in order to minimise protest against such a move. So it makes no difference if IDS tries to live for a week or a year or the rest of his tawdry life on £53 a week or £53 an hour. It won’t, for a second, change the views of this shambling cunch of bunts.