Food is the most fundamental need of life. Yet nowadays, the amount one has to spend on it is the only item in one's household budget which it is possible to squeeze. Most other household costs are fixed and mandatory. This is very dangerous to health for all those who are forced to exist on State welfare.
In the spring of 1991 our supermarket food bill was more than the whole of what we had started to received in State welfare. We had to at least halve it.
|Family Food Bill||1993-94|
Our household and consumables budget of £2990.49 for the year 1993-94 normally had to feed four persons. Two of these were growing teenage boys. This worked out at £2.05 per person per day. However, during that year our daughter was at university. She had a grant which just covered the cost of her full-board in halls. It did not cover holidays. Being a student, she was not eligible for any form of State welfare. So, during university holidays, she had to live with us. If we informed the DSS, they would actually have reduced our amount of welfare because she was an adult of 23 living with us, whom they would have assumed either to have a job or be claiming welfare. For the duration of the university holidays, therefore, our food budget had to provide for five people. That is less than £1.64 per person per day! Also, during school holidays, our sons do not get free school meals as they do during term time. During the holidays, their main meal of the day also had to come out of this miserly £1.64 per person per day.
|The Basics 1993-94|
|street market (veg & dairy)||£807.04|
|fresh dairy items||£144.51|
|fresh fruit & veg||£58.97|
|beverages tea coffee choc||£144.42|
We have the misfortune to live in one of the most expensive commuter areas of the South East of England. We had to maximise the amount and quality of food we could buy with the minuscule amount of money we had available. Our health directly depended on it. There was no room for hearsay on prices. We had to find them out for ourselves by direct precise monitoring. We found that compared with street markets, supermarkets are very expensive. Convenient as just-in-time one-stop sources of everything for those who could afford their prices, but far too expensive for us to use as our main source. Therefore we bought our basics from the street market which visited our town on Thursdays. The table shows what we spent over the year.
|meat & fish products||£179.71|
|tinned fruit & veg||£42.76|
|bakery products & biscuits||£88.31|
|Those Little Extras|
|packaged meals & deserts||£199.83|
|chocolate & sweets||£123.12|
Our £2990.49 food budget for 1993-94 excluded milk. With four people normally in the family, two pints of milk a day is the minimum we can get away with. We cannot reduce further our milk bill without having to buy powdered milk products from the supermarket. Hence we also need 730 pints of milk a year. During the year 1993-94 this cost £277.40. Furthermore, the above includes only our documented spending. It omits many essential purchases from various shops in the town from time to time.
Spending on food is the first area of the domestic budget over which we have direct and immediate control. It was therefore the first area in which I tried to tighten the belt even further whenever money had to be saved quickly in order to meet a short-term emergency. To do this, it was not practical to reduce the general food intake. The only effective way was to fast for short periods. But going without food to save money is a bad idea. The effects are not what the uninitiated would suppose.
There is an initial feeling of hunger, but this quickly passes. The first real experience of thorough unpleasantness is an all-pervasive headache with a constant hissing in your head. You get used to this after a time and notice the convenience of never having to use a toilet. Your breath stinks. But the real killer is the onset of a creeping mind-numbing lethargy. Thoughts are fleeting and disconnected. You cannot think cogently and you just couldn't care less. You are a zombie. You have joined the living dead. Even the ½ km walk to sign on at the Jobcentre is a gargantuan task which you can no longer contemplate. Take it from me: cutting food below our present level is not a viable way to save money or meet some short-term emergency.