https://faststream.blog.gov.uk/2017/10/09/live-below-the-line/

Live below the line

This blog is from a week in February when I, with a group of fellow Fast Streamers, took part in the Live Below the Line challenge in aid of The Children’s Society. The challenge is to eat and drink for less than £1 a day for five days to simulate what it’s like living under the poverty line. I wrote this blog on day four of the challenge.

The end is in sight! I am now counting down the hours - no, minutes - until I can eat and drink whatever I want again. I feel pretty rubbish. I have a light but constant headache from caffeine withdrawal and not much energy as I’m consuming fewer than half of the recommended daily calories.

It feels a bit like I’m half a person: I feel constantly drowsy and can’t concentrate on basic tasks. Then there’s the psychological effect, exacerbated by social exclusion. When colleagues take time out at 11am to get a coffee, I can’t join them. When a school friend comes down to London for a night and my housemates go out to dinner with her, there’s no point in me going. When I’m waiting to meet my Dad and want to wait inside somewhere warm I realise I can’t because I can’t afford to buy a coffee which allows me to sit. So I stand on the concourse of the tube station - it’s either that or the freezing street. That got me thinking, what communal areas could I enjoy without buying food, drink or a ticket? I realised that living in poverty you don’t only feel like half a person because of the physical effects of a poor diet, but because you’re incredibly isolated.

As a child in a family suffering from poverty the isolation must be awful. The child often won’t understand why they’re in the position they’re in; why their home life is different from that of their friends. The stigma around collecting free school meals and the embarrassment of not having the right uniform or the newest toys add to the feeling of isolation. Recently The Children’s Society reported that 27% of children have been bullied because it their parents struggle with the costs associated with sending them to school. Children don’t choose the situations they are born into, and often aren’t able to do anything to change them until they’re older. Even then, their hard start in life can sometimes make changing things difficult.

These are just some of the reasons why the work that The Children’s Society does is very important. They support families - not just the children themselves but their parents and guardians - because they understand that people don’t intend to bring up their children in poverty.

This five day challenge has already changed my attitude towards food by giving me a taste of what the poorest and most helpless people in our society are forced to live with. It’s made me appreciate every bite.

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