As usual at Quids in!, we’re pre-occupied with the impact of Universal Credit. We’ve wanted for a long time to come up with better advice than ‘You’d better take a trip to the foodbank!’ Our latest idea is that if we can get to people early enough, maybe they could create their own. Squirreling away a couple of quids’ worth of food each week, they could stockpile enough so as not to have to worry at least about how they’ll feed the kids during the five-week minimum wait for the first payment.
As we researched it, though, we discovered that many of us might like to try the same challenge. The Office for National Statistics reckons skipping a monthly shop would save the average household £246. There’s certainly plenty I could do with that, so we’re putting the idea in front of all our readers, regardless of whether they’re on benefits or not.
I remember as a kid my grandparents’ larder was full of goodies so old, they still had the price labels in pounds, shillings and pence. We laughed how it seemed they were expecting a war but I realise now how they might not have found that so funny. And it’s a war footing that I guess we’re recommending to future UC claimants, encouraging them to ration themselves.
One money blogger I spoke to said she wished she’d thought of the challenge first. 'It's one thing to encourage people to set money aside for something like five weeks without an income but we can dip into it. It’s a constant temptation, so it’s harder to keep safe. But the idea of creating your own personal food bank could be really useful.'
The blog’s followers had plenty to offer on how to step up to the challenge too:
'Evaporated milk, dried milk, flour, rice, pasta, cheap tinned toms, soya mince, seeds to grow your own spinach (so easy to grow), sauces and gravy (makes spinach more edible!), oil, tinned meat. Buy a few extra items each week,' said one.
'Would make sure the freezer was completely full before the deadline! I have herbs and potatoes growing in the garden, so could make use of them, also have some seeds for other bits that I’d want to plant out to use,' said another.
'I could probably feed us and next door as well without getting a single extra thing,’ said one more. ‘It’s not called the Armageddon cupboard for nothing!'
And with this last one, Quids In’s ‘Doomsday Cupboard’ was born. (The word ‘armageddon’ fails the simple literacy test!) The main feature in Quids in! this issue will look at why and how to build one, with expertise shared by our friends at Foodini Club. Meanwhile, more extensive details will be available as a free download to subscribers of our monthly money email service, the Quids In Readers Club.
This is how we approach Universal Credit and all our money advice. The technical stuff is important but what we need to do is relate the challenges to people’s everyday lives. It’s an approach we’ll expand with a new service to non-welfare advisers when we open an online resource to share these and other best practice ideas on the practical support claimants could use that goes beyond how UC does and doesn’t work. (More to follow on this… so long as you’ve confirmed your subscription to keep receiving our newsletters.)
This doesn’t make us apologists for the government, or supportive even of how UC has been rolled out, it makes us pragmatists. We are just trying to find the ‘work-arounds’ to help claimants live with a system so ill-fitting with their lives that it borders on the unjust. But while many people inside and outside the DWP try to smooth its hardest edges, we’ll focus on what claimants (with support from advisers, landlords and authorities) can do to help themselves in the meantime.