Are Food Banks a necessity or a lifestyle choice?

Introduction

I have had many debates on Twitter and in ‘Real Life’ regarding the eating habits of those living solely on State Benefits in the UK, their income and this fallacy that up to 1 million people have to use Food Banks simply to survive in the UK.

I have decided, in the interests of fairness and to satisfy my own curiosity, to look a little closer at this. My plan in this article is to prove to myself and others that it is possible to live perfectly fine without this so-called reliance on Food Banks.

My intention is to take an example situation, examine their income from the state and their living costs. I would also like to prove that, if people would put the effort in, they can live perfectly fine on Fresh Food, rather than the processed muck I see filling shopping trolleys every time I go to a supermarket.

I will use an example single mother, we’ll call Jane, who is 40 years old and a stay-at-home mum, keeping house and providing a stable home environment for her two delightful children.

Jane is a non-smoker (I don’t agree that the taxpayer should foot the bill for someone to burn their hard-earned tax in their mouth, adding to our already-struggling NHS problems) and occasionally has a bottle of wine covered in her shopping bill (nobody begrudges Jane a bottle of vino – we all know it is a must in this modern age, to avoid stress and to give some semblance of a life).

Initial Assumptions

I have taken as my example family a single mother (Jane), with two children (a boy aged 9 and a girl aged 11), no Father on the scene (who’d have thought, eh?).

The mother lives solely on Benefits, with no other income or Child Maintenance being received.

She has no savings at all and no other property or future income.

They live in a private rented 3-bedroom house in Darlington (I took a standard end-terrace from ‘RightMove’ online as my example, details at the end of this article).

Income

Based on the Benefits she will receive (see Calculations at end of article), Jane will have an income of £224.97 per week (her rent is totally covered by Housing Benefit, so we’ll leave it off our calculations).

This is broken down as:

  • £73.10 Income Support
  • £117.47 Child Tax Credits
  • £34.40 Child Benefit

Expenditure

I have allowed the following in expenditure, again broken down on a per week basis to make my figures more manageable:

Expenditure1

Disclaimer:  It has been pointed out to me that I’ve over-estimated Electricity & Gas amounts….but that highlights my point all the more, with more spare cash each week to put towards ‘incidentals’, etc.

Please note:

  • I have simplified the weekly expenditure, lumping all of the one-off annual bills into a ‘pot’ which I’ve called ‘Rainy Day Fund’ to cover such things as Christmas, birthdays, school uniforms, appliance replacement, etc. From my figures above, this comes to an annual total of £1280 approximately, to be set aside for these ad hoc bills. The TV License is only paid over 26 weeks, so it allows £145.60 to be added to the savings amount.
  • The ‘Shopping’ amount will cover all food purchases, plus some non-food items which will allow for cleaning materials, one-offs such as salt, pepper, etc which are not needed every week. I have included below a standard weekly ‘shop’ for Jane.
  • The ‘Incidentals’ amount is to cover such things as bus fares, window cleaner, the odd tin of emulsion, etc. I’ve allowed £25 per week, totalling £1300 per annum.
  • The ‘Telephone & Broadband‘ amount is taken from TalkTalk.co.uk, giving their ‘Plus TV’ package at £26.50 per month. This gives 6 Sky TV Channels, Telephone Line, Broadband and Unlimited Calls at any time.

Shopping

I detest going to a supermarket because all I see is people pushing trolleys full of what I consider to be processed muck, cheap easy-to-prepare meals with little or no proper food content and certainly not anything I’d be feeding a child to promote proper and healthy growth.

I have used Asda to gain pricing for the example weekly shopping, though I would urge Jane to use a local butcher and greengrocer, where she can purchase items loose (and much fresher).  I priced these items from Asda, but Jane would not require the pack sizes bought from Asda, so the prices should come out pretty much similar.

Sample-Shop

Conclusions

Going by my calculations above (details of benefits calculations are below), there is absolutely no reason why Jane and her two kids cannot eat well, live well and survive without the use of a Food Bank.

If Jane wants to feed her children decent, fresh food, she can certainly do so.  I would argue that a large proportion of people currently living on Welfare in the UK choose to purchase the pre-packed, processed food items which may appear cheap, but add up to be more expensive in order to provide the basic nutritional value that is necessary to promote growth and well-being in children.

Obviously, if Jane decided to spend her Benefit Income at weekends by going down to the pub, or by smoking regularly (nearly £8 a pack is outside the reach of anyone on benefits and I would argue that Benefits are not to feed this habit), then she will have a problem.

Benefits are not designed to support an £8 per packet smoking habit, or to support weekend binge-drinking.

That said, the Welfare System is designed to help someone who is not working, for whatever reason, not to be a complete lifestyle choice competing with those who are working for a living.

The purpose of the Welfare System is to ‘provide a minimal level of well-being and social support‘, which we can see from Jane’s example is more than adequate at current UK rates.

So, are those nasty Tories forcing people into Food Banks, or are they spending their benefits on something other than what they are actually designed for?

“Studies of deprived and disadvantaged groups have shown smoking levels among lone parents in receipt of social Security Benefits in excess of 75%”.

Action on Smoking & Health (based on 1994 study).

Calculations

Income Calculations

Below are my Benefit Calculations, using the government’s own Online Calculator.

The income calculations can be seen in the series of screenshots below, but this is a summary:

Jane's Benefits Income

Housing

I took as my example a 3-bedroom end-terrace property in Darlington, close to all local amenities. I simply looked on RightMove.co.uk and chose a simple-enough property, with an average rental (£475 per calendar month).

Housing Benefit will cover the cost of this rental in full, Council Tax is almost funded (leaving a small weekly amount of £2.91 per week to pay) and there is no reduction due to the so-called Bedroom Tax as the family are entitled to a 3-bedroom property.

House1 House2

Workings for Jane’s Benefits calculation (slideshow)

 

What if Jane got a job?

An interesting part of the government’s Online Benefits Calculator is at the end, where it provides a comparison to income if you got a job and worked for a living.

In Jane’s case, if she took a basic job at 36 hours per week, paid at £7 per hour, even allowing for Childcare costs, she would be much better off due to the huge amount of Working Tax Credits she would receive.

WORKING TAX CREDITS

Why the nasty Tory government wants to cut these Tax Credits is plain to see – how we can possibly sustain handouts of this amount to those who are working is beyond me.

“The annual welfare bill doubled to £186 billion at a cost of £6,400 per year for the average worker” from 1997-2010.

Nick Wood, 05/05/2014

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  1. GiantYorkiePud
    Reply

    There’s so many variables to this & forthcoming changes to tax credits could affect that.

    For example our LLA for a 2 bed is £390 – £400 a month (can’t remember!) but you’d struggle to find a property for that.
    Travel costs vary a fair bit too. I love to shop local but that can actually mean more expensive sometimes.
    It’s all very individual.

    • UKRants
      Reply

      I agree, to a point. My example shows though, FOOD shold not be a problem on current Benefits. There’s not much for all the luxuries, but I did include Sky, Mobile Tel, etc on there too.
      If there’s a problem re housing & housing Benefits….the housing stock increase that has been promised should help alleviate this (if they ever build em).

      • GiantYorkiePud
        Reply

        That’s the key isnt it. Our LA keep giving in to house builders over their low cost housing requirements. It starts of at around 20% then developer says “but that’s unaffordable for us, we’ll offer 16%.”
        Some manage to get it down to half what it should be, council just give in as they’ll threaten to pull out.
        Chances are not enough will ever be built.

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