On the day, Joanne revealed she had just £10 a month in her budget for food. Dinner was often a potato or even as little as half a Pot Noodle. Our Service Coordinator, Karina, invited her in the next day and Joanne arrived with a bag of unopened post – a familiar sight for debt advisors across the country. Before turning their attention to a budget, they went through all the post. Unlike most people’s experience, Joanne had missed a cheque from the Widow’s Benevolent Fund for over two grand. She was also overpaying housing costs, had a gym membership she didn’t use and was spending over the odds on broadband. She was £2,200 a year better off plus the windfall. Now eating, she started a college course, volunteering at the city farm and working toward a job in horticulture.
This year, our projects Quids in! and Clean Slate Training & Employment will add the theme of food poverty to their agendas. Joanne’s story was as informative to us as it was transformative to her: She felt she was doing okay and for her, skipping meals was making do and making ends meet. But it took a third party to intervene and say, ‘That’s great, but it’s not resilience. What about your health?’
3 IN 5 SKIPPING MEALS
Not being able to keep food on the table is very often the presenting face of poverty. It’s the tipping point where all of us will say ‘enough is enough’. It is a red flag that makes real the fact that money crises are a safeguarding issue. It’s also where even the right wing media and the public cannot willfully ignore the reality in our hardest-pressed communities.
Quids In's most recent research found 58% of working age people not in full-time employment were skipping meals on account of money worries. Let's not forget, this is the group that will end up on Universal Credit. They're already struggling to keep food on the table.
Like with Joanne, being forced to skip meals or turn to a foodbank does not mean people cannot manage their money well enough. The giveaway was the huge spike in foodbank usage whenever Universal Credit was rolled out for new claimants in more areas. It was having no income for five weeks that forced them to take handouts. It's an immutable link that some politicians should take note of and one the government needs to examine as it plans to extend UC to millions already on legacy benefits like ESA.
RESILIENT AND RESOURCEFUL
Going without, if we were talking about a new pair of shoes, shows great financial discipline. And asking for help is a fundamental survival skill. But we don’t know what we don’t know, so when we get people from struggling communities along to our events, we facilitate ways for them to pool their knowledge. They role play running Quids in! magazine, coming up with the tips they’d share with people like them and answering readers’ letters as our Agony Aunt. We add in some missing insights, like how to do a benefits check online or make sure more money is coming than going out (with a web-based budgeting tool). And we work through a £10 challenge to fill a virtual trolley with enough to eat for a week. In our pilot, participants got themselves on average £580 better off.
Our hitching our wagon to the likes of foodbanks, holiday hunger programmes and public health nutrition initiatives is an opportunity to join some dots and reach people in need. We’ll help them recognise how much they know already, share tips with each other and fill in any gaps in their knowledge, like checking they're applying for council tax support and accessing all the help available. Even if they're not better off, they don't feel so alone. We’re up and running and on the ground in the West of England and Gloucestershire already and we’re opening a new Quids In Centre in Tower Hamlets that will launch in partnership with housing providers and food programmes.
In the next few months, Quids in! will publish a guide to eating on a limited budget. More than a collection of recipes, we’ll be looking at ways to eek out a meagre budget to shop thriftily, buy and cook in bulk, and stock up for any income shocks (like moving onto Universal Credit). The guide will also profile ways to access free or affordable white goods to be able to pre-cook and store meals, as well as the help that’s on offer at community projects as diverse as foodbanks and football clubs. It will draw on the extensive knowledge and resilience participants have brought to our workshops over the past two years.