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Gemma Tumelty

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Living Below the Line Day One

Posted: 09/05/2012 10:41

To say that I could have started this process better prepared is an understatement. This Bank Holiday Monday has somehow crept up on me and I woke up this morning having not done my shopping and with my usual craving for first cup of tea.

So now here I am, somewhat belatedly doing my research and menu-planning whilst drinking a somewhat underwhelming cup of hot water. I am already stressing about a lack of caffeine (I get serious caffeine withdrawal headaches) during this week, but splashing out on a pack of tea bags and the milk will take up nearly a fifth of my budget and no matter how much I juggle the pennies, I just don't think I can afford them.

I am realising that whilst I usually take some notice of the price of items that I put in my shopping basket, getting the items on offer or making the most two-for-one deals, I am out of the habit of properly budgeting for groceries. Although there have been times where things have been extremely tight, I am really lucky in that having to choose between 40 tea bags or a tin of tuna is not something I have even had to do, even as a student living on a small budget.

The £1 a day that I am living on is only for food and drink, but the stark reality for the 1.4 billion people around the world that live below the extreme poverty line is that income has to buy so much more than food. That income also - somehow - has to cover transport, education, clothes and health costs. I also know that my hunger pangs will be ended after only five days, but that comfort simply does not exist for those around the world living in extreme poverty.

As my stomach grumbles and my caffeine withdraw kicks in, I have to keep reminding myself that by taking part in Live Below the Line I am fundraising for Positive Women, an international development charity set up to empower women and children in Africa, starting with Swaziland. Their work focuses on supporting communities to change their own lives and circumstances, to alleviate poverty and make significant social change.

We rarely see the true extent of poverty and deprivation internationally. When we do, in times of drought, famine, and war, when the eyes of the world's media focus on the very poorest for a short period of time, individuals and countries respond with emergency support. But it will take far more than an international aid effort to impact on global poverty, which is why the UK's international development commitments are so crucial.

When the wealthiest one fifth of the world consume three quarters of the world's resources, when less than 1% of what the world spends every year on weapons is enough to put every single child into school and when the Gross Domestic Product of the 41 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (567 million people) is less than the wealth of the world's seven richest people combined (1) , it is clear that aid alone is not the solution. The global institutions that are culpable in maintaining this sort of world order must be challenged.

Many of the charities involved in the Global Poverty Project's Live Below the Line campaign are focused on international development and the alleviation of poverty globally, but this campaign is equally relevant to UK poverty and the increased number of people and families struggling to make ends meet.

It is to our shame that 3.8 million children live in poverty in the UK (2), a figure set to rise under this Government's economic policies as their austerity measures punish the poorest with unemployment rises, wage freezes and slashed benefits and
tax credits.

The elderly and the disabled are other groups in society that are vulnerable to living in relative poverty in the UK and again the Government's Welfare Reform Bill and lack of willingness to deal with energy costs will only worsen living standards. In contrast to the lack of action by the conservative-led Government, Labour have proposed the bulk buying of electricity to bring down costs of energy for squeezed families in the UK.

The effects of living in poverty are serious and long lasting, the psychological effects are crippling and include insecurity and vulnerability, bad physical health, lack of education, resentment for society, crime and the list goes on. The Spirit Level is a must read on inequality in society and obviously relative poverty is a key facet of this. For a quick summary you can watch this slightly annoying short film.

So, on that note, I'm off to Lidl now to buy my £5 worth of food to last me the week and I'm hoping they have a special offer on tea.

You can sponsor me and raise money for Positive Women here.

1) Poverty stats
2) After housing costs

 

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