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“This challenge is actually impossible”: life on £20 per week

Jacqui Grimes reflects on the key experiment, which inspired the team to tackle the food poverty premium…


Our first experiment was to see what it would be like to live on a tight budget. We trialled living on a budget of £20 per week for everything outside of rent and bills. We based the weekly amount on the budget of a customer we engaged with who was on Universal Credit.

Here are some excerpts from our diaries:


“Today I get the bus. I haven't left enough time to walk into Liverpool for work (I'd need an extra hour). So my daily budget goes up in smoke!”

“The bread I have been rationing has gone mouldy in the heat. There's no money to replace it so I throw the rogue slices away and check the others carefully before eating them.”

“You can't have treats on this diet.”

“Today my period starts unexpectedly. I have no choice but to buy pads from a Sainsbury's local. They cost £2. Ten per cent of my budget on an essential that I can't eat!”

“The most revelatory moment of today occurs during a conversation with my 5-year-old. She’s worried about an injection she has to have tomorrow, so I bribe her with the promise of a toy if she’s very brave about it. I experience a sudden jolt when I realise that the £10 I have just casually pledged to cheer her up is not available to many people. I wonder how I would have managed her worry and upset if I wasn’t fortunate enough to be able to treat her. I feel pretty sad thinking about that.’

“When I tot up my estimated food spending with one day to go, I find I’ve already hit £21.08, i.e., I’ve broken the budget. And that’s before I factor in the beer already in the fridge, the food already in the freezer, the snacks donated by friends, etc.”

“This challenge is actually impossible for me.”

‘I couldn’t include transport in the budget or getting to work would have been impossible — thinking of people who live on this income and get a job offer, how could they afford to get to work before they get paid?”

‘Totally bored of plain porridge & forgot my leftover lunch luckily people in the office bought us some sweets and fruit so my lunch consisted of some wine gums, chocolate buttons and a banana.”

“Beans on toast for tea, forgot how good they taste but starting to feel bloated and sluggish from the carbs and lack of fruit and veg.”

“If I'd taken into account all the transport and other bills I definitely wouldn't be seeing my friends tonight”

The experiment gave a real insight into the choices you have to make when living on a low income and the impact it has on work and social life. Constantly worrying about how much things costs and what proportion of your budget you are spending was really exhausting and everything required planning in advance. If there was an unexpected event — thankfully for us it was only some mouldy bread and forgotten lunch, but if it was bigger like a broken fridge or big energy bill in the winter, I don’t know how we would have paid for it.


This exercise really inspired the People Powered team but it helped us to understand the problems people face. We wanted to make a difference and help turn impossible choices into possible choices — for our customers and their families.


Jacqui Grimes

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The Good Food Bag  

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