elettaria: (Trans-friendly equal marriage symbol)
In the light of the benefits scandals, the BBC has published an article pondering How little money can a person live on? It mentions that some people on benefits have to live on £53 a week, and then goes through the "essential" costs, but neglects to tot them all up. I presume this is so that you come away thinking that it's perfectly easy to live on £53 a week, anyone can do it. Plus it waves around the magical £350 week per single adult that you can supposedly claim on benefits. I'm on ESA and high-rate DLA, and I don't get anything like that, and I now have to cough up over £100 a month to pay for support workers who are variously homophobic, don't meet basic literacy standards, and keep on wrenching my arm painfully due to lack of proper movement and handling training.

Let's have a look at their maths, shall we.

Food

Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to pick out some food items they think are ideal, and then to ferret out the lowest possible prices for them. This involves Tesco, Sainsburys and Asda. Because in real life, everyone goes around three supermarkets with a little notebook, makes their calculations, and then goes around the three supermarkets all over again to buy the cheapest items from each. These supermarkets will, of course, all be large and conveniently situated right next to your home, so that you don't need to waste money on transport, not even when you're carrying the shopping home. What, did you expect the taxpayer to fund trips to the gym when you could be keeping fit in this fashion? Let's just hope that the supermarkets don't sell out of anything while you're scurrying around with your notebook, eh.

After talking gaily about how it's possible to eat healthily on £15 a week, they admit,

Theoretically it is possible to eat on £12 a week, but in practice it will be double that, because people don't have good cooking skills and the equipment they might need.

Ah, you mean that not everyone is able to spend ages making a Very Very Cheap Dried Bean Stew every single day?

On average, the poorest 20% of non-retired single adult households (those with less than £256 a week before tax) spent £22.30 a week on food and non-alcoholic drink, according to the 2012 Family Spending Survey from the Office for National Statistics.

I'm going to use those "average for poor people" stats, so that's £22.30 for food.

Utilities

Someone is "suggesting" £13.57 as a possibility for a single person in a single flat. Apparently this is the "cheapest variable deal". We all know that those cheapest variable deals are easy to access at any moment you might care to look, and furthermore you shouldn't need to pay for the internet or phone costs involved in shopping around. I'm spending £18.50 at the moment, and that's with LED lightbulbs (which are not cheap to buy) and so forth. It's been pretty cold this year, and I have medical problems which mean that I'm at home all day and get cold very easily. We're talking about people on benefits here, so I shouldn't be seen as atypical. The other figures, which are much higher, are for "average households", which probably doesn't mean per person, so let's use my £18.50 for fuel.

"There is a lot you can do like get insulation, put a jumper on, don't walk around in your shorts. Turning the thermostat down can save quite a lot of money."

I'll get back to that in the Clothing section. Let's just say that I am not walking around in my shorts. I am wearing lots of heavy layers, and having to spend a lot of the day in bed, underneath a duvet and at least two extra blankets, merely in order to stay warm. If I'm still cold in bed, I use a small electric heating pad rather than turn up the heating. I minimise the heating as much as I can, which means that I get nastily chilled on a regular basis, especially when getting dressed after a shower.

After that, they suggest £6.50 for phone and internet. There's another £2.78 for a TV licence. I don't have a TV, but almost everyone else does and it's not very much, so let's add that in.

Council tax has mysteriously vanished. If you're on benefits, you get council tax benefit too, but that still leaves about £4 a week for water and sewerage rates.

Transport

They are quite frankly fudging the figures for London. How many people manage on a single bus ride a day? Are you meant to walk home? Anyway, their average-figures-for-poor-people are £16.30 for transport, so let's use that. London is a law unto itself, anyway, and having not lived there since the nineties, I wouldn't dare try to work out what it costs. Londoners, please comment!

Incidental costs

This begins rather alarmingly with,

What do you do if the washing machine breaks, the toaster packs in, or the sofa collapses?

Frankly, I suspect an undertone of, "Poor people want toasters now? They're spoilt rotten, all of them!"

Anyway, it turns out that this is about more mundane items. Things you actually need, like toilet paper and toothpaste. Oh, and hair products. Apparently everyone needs to spend £7 per week on a combination of hair products and hairdressers. This is the point at which I started to wonder if they're living on the same planet that I am. I mean, I've always had long hair, and between being vegan and having sensitive skin I've only found one shampoo and conditioner I can use, which I ship up from London in batches a few times a year. And even I'm not spending anything like that. Granted, men with short hair will need haircuts more often than women with longer hair, but I hear those are pretty cheap, and if your hair's that short you really won't be going through shampoo very fast. Eventually they get back to their "recommended minimum", and we get,

It suggests that a single person needs £11.65 for personal goods and services (including things like healthcare, toiletries, cosmetics and hairdressing), £11.55 for household goods, £3.61 for upkeep of the home and £1.98 for household insurance.

So that's £28.79 for household sundries. I'm particularly thrilled to hear that I should be paying £1.98 for my household insurance. Now could someone please explain to Endsleigh that they're charging three to four times as much as the BBC says they should? On the other hand, I think the massive focus on hair products is a joke, so let's leave that figure as it is.

Conspicuous by their absence are menstrual products for women. Now, I am a good ecological creature and have been using reusables for over a decade, but I realise that I'm in the minority, and I can't really see a government-mandated Mooncup scheme starting any time soon. Asking around has suggested a figure of £6 per period for disposables, so that comes to £1.50 for menstrual products per week. If you have particularly heavy periods, tough luck.

Clothing

This begins with a lecture on how we all have unused clothes lurking at the backs of our wardrobes, using up precious space that the taxpayer is paying to have centrally heated and yearning for an escape to Narnia.

"There are some clothes that are essential and some clothes that you buy because you want them," says Wrap's David Moon.

Indeed. Let us now find out what clothes are essential.

Among the items its panel considered necessary for the average man were 10 pairs of boxer shorts, 10 pairs of socks, five pairs of jeans, two pairs of trousers, two suits, 26 shirts of various types, two pairs of smart shoes and two pairs of trainers.

For women, the list includes 10 pairs of knickers, three bras, four pairs of tights, 10 T-shirts, two jumpers, two pairs of jeans, four pairs of trousers, four skirts, two formal dresses, two summer dresses, and two pairs of heels, one of flats and one of trainers.


So men need suits, presumably so that they can stop scrounging off the state and go out and get a job (but don't expect to spend more than £1.40 for a one-way bus to the interview), while women don't. Mystifyingly, women need four pairs of shoes, some of which are casual and to be worn with trousers, but don't need socks. And after being scolded for wasting energy by prancing around in nothing but your shorts with the heating cranked up to maximum, when you should just be putting on more jumpers, not only do women not have any shorts, but they only have two jumpers. Two jumpers. Have I been hallucinating the cold weather we've been having over the last few years, or indeed Britain's climate in general? Men will be fine, they can just wear those twenty-six shirts all at once.

Pyjamas and outdoor wear are also missing, however, so at this point I'm suspecting that it's just a very incomplete list. However, women should rejoice to know that we're allowed two pairs of high heels and two formal dresses. I'm surprised jewellery didn't make it onto the list, nor an in-depth discussion of make-up, nor the entry fee for the most exclusive clubs. How else are we meant to snag rich husbands? It's not as if we're expected to work, after all.

Suggested average: £9.31 for clothing and footwear, and by God you'd better walk all the way to Matalan for it.

Discretionary spending

The Beeb isn't quite sure what to do with this section. Should they rail against people on benefits wasting taxpayer's money on booze and fags, with grim hints that we should all be made to use welfare cash cards instead of having access to cash? Should they suggest that eating out at a restaurant every week is a normal part of basic living? They seem to have compromised on both, with an amazing £44.76 on social and cultural activities suggested. Considering that they began the article twittering happily about how you can theoretically eat healthily and satisfyingly on £12 a week, this is rather mind-boggling.

Apparently owning a pet is a cultural activity - watch out for a follow-up article about how crazy old cat ladies are squandering the nation's wealth.

Total: £109.98 for the basics and £154.74 if you include "discretionary spending"

Adding them up in the order I've put, we hit £53 halfway through the transport costs, in case anyone is wondering. Because no one really needs to buy things like soap, after all.

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January 2014

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