Family Life Below the Line: "It's been tougher than I imagined"

Posted by Helen Turner Oxfam Media Officer in the North

2nd May 2013

As many Live Below the Line participants have found over the last few days, living on £1 a day is certainly a challenge. But how hard is it when you are a family of four on a £4 a day budget? Activism Assistant Jo Chamberlain tells her Live Below the Line story: 

Our family has been living below the line for the past 4 days. That's me, my husband and our two children, Jessica, 12 and Thomas, 9.

The end to our £1 a day challenge is almost in sight and I now believe we'll make it through the week!  It has been tougher than I imagined - I thought I could plan my way out of any difficulties, but you can't plan for the unexpected!  Overall, we haven't gone to bed hungry, and the children haven't been hungry at school (or so they tell me, they have been remarkably uncomplaining).  However the gap between meals has sometimes been difficult to navigate. There were a few spare biscuits to fill the gap, but it has felt restrictive limiting food and snacks. But I guess these are restrictions some people live with all the time.

Our first big hurdle came early, with breakfast on Day 1.  Porridge made just with water turns out to be awful, and the jam I'd bought to sweeten it made it taste weird. The budget hadn't run to sugar, and I wasn't sure I had enough bread for toast for everyone every day. I was really grateful for friends who suggested adding salt. I was dreading breakfast the next day, but salt turns out to make all the difference. My son and I also counted up how many slices of bread we had, and worked out that anyone who really couldn't face porridge (my daughter!), could have two slices of toast instead. Also, as we had more oats than needed so I made oatcakes, which are good with butter on. Even better with cheese, but that will have to wait...


Another problem was that some of the veg I bought started to go off!  What can you do when you've spent your entire budget and your food turns bad?  Or when no-one can eat the food you make?  I felt panicked about having made wrong decisions about the type of food I'd bought (no milk, no sugar) and helpless to do anything about it because there was no money left.  This, I guess, is the closest I got to really understanding what it is like to live below the line.



My own personal hurdle (and my husband's) has been dealing with the lack of caffeine.  We've both suffered headaches, which are harder to bear when hungry, and struggled to function in our everyday lives. Today is Thursday, and I can say that I've done my cold turkey. I also think the sweet treats I managed to conjure up last night helped - rhubarb crumble (rhubarb from the garden and a digestive biscuit to sweeten the crumble) and jam tarts (flour left from what 's needed to make pizza tomorrow).





I'm most pleased with our main meals, based around pulses and beans, a few fresh veg and garlic for flavour.  They've been filling and tasty, and reasonably nutritious.  Some surprises too - the dhal we had last night will be returning to our table!  I'm also really touched by all the support we've had, including sponsors, recipe tips, and general admiration for what we're doing.  This reminds me that for us, this has been a bit of a game, but for far too many people in the world it is their everyday reality.




There's still time to sign up as the campaign is running until 1 July 1 on the Live Below the Line website - I would recommend it to everyone - it has been a very worthwhile challenge so far! Find out more here: http://www.livebelowtheline.com/uk-oxfam


Blog post written by Helen Turner

Oxfam Media Officer in the North

More by Helen Turner