Live Below the Line. For a Bit.

There’s been some chatter in the news and on the social media gob-stream lately about the ‘awareness campaign’ Live Below the Line. By chatter, I mean patronising tosh. The central message behind Live Below the Line is “Could you live on a food budget of less than £1 a day for five days?” Well, yeah. I could. I’ve been doing it for years, thanks.

Everyone from local news reporters to Hollywood actors have been pledging to raise awareness of global poverty by taking the ‘challenge’ of eating in the way that 1.4 billion people have no choice in, for a bit. The official website has a handy list of rules, that make it sound like so much of a game, you’re wondering where to get the dice and cardboard counters shaped like pound coins. Look at this guy from a regional newspaper, he’s Living Below the Line and having a whale of a time.



“Pound a day for five days? Sounds like a jolly jape!”

This whole campaign is offensive bollocks, but let’s imagine for a moment that good intentions got a little misguided and merely point out that, at best, this is an idea that’s deeply, fundamentally flawed. The true killer of living so meagrely is the overwhelming, crushing sense of hopelessness; the feeling of fear, of “Well fuck, maybe I won’t be eating next week at all. And who knows where I’ll be in six months time.” 5 days can’t give you that any more than you could empathise with the plight of a wrongly convicted death row inmate by spending 24 hours alone in a room. In your house. With the door unlocked.

To take one element of poverty and briefly co-opt it into your non-poverty life is a bullshit, patronising misunderstanding of what it is to exist on that level, with no choice in the matter, and no option to call it quits if it gets too much. Okay, so you’re spending £1 a day on food for not even a full week? Are you turning your heating off too? Because if you can’t afford food, you certainly can’t afford heating. Are you going anywhere that isn’t within walking distance for 5 days? Because you don’t have the money for a train or bus fare, and certainly can’t afford to run a car. And no nights out, right? Because you haven’t any disposable income, so a trip to the pub or to catch a film is out of the question. Ditto on buying, well, anything for yourself. What about clothes? Still swanning about in fresh selections from your wardrobe, or did you toss out everything but a couple of pairs of jeans and some fading t-shirts with the logos flaking off, to really get that “Haven’t had the money for new gear in years” feeling? How about replicating the sense of complete isolation that goes with the territory? Any ideas about recreating that for this little adventure of yours? No? Oh.

The recent petition to make loathsome Tory Iain Duncan Smith live up to his words and survive on £53 a week like he claimed anybody could suffered from the same flaw. Of course he could. In his mansion, with his fully stocked larder. I could survive quite easily on nothing a week if I had a support network of millionaires and a fucking driver. You can’t dip your toe into poverty like it’s a fancy dress costume. ‘Campaigns’ like Live Below the Line reduce human suffering to the level of charity-tourism, like those middle-class gap-year Christians who go to Africa for 10 days to take photos of themselves putting three bricks onto the foundations of a half-built classroom. Their iPhone pics of giggling groups of little black children feeling their blonde hair, and being held, smiling, in WWJD-bangle-adorned arms, to be revisited in later years like snapshots from an outing to the petting zoo or the local museum, in the knowledge that, for a while, they really slummed it; really experienced.

"...AND we had to poo in a hole in the ground!"

“…AND we had to poo in a hole in the ground!”

So, if you do manage to Live Below the Line for five whole days, be sure to let everyone know how tough that was for you, little soldier. Stick photos up on Facebook of you sat at your dining room table in the decently furnished flat or house where you live, taken with the smartphone you can afford to own and use, in the clothes you aren’t ashamed to be seen in. And when you get to the end, and you enjoy that big, hard-earned celebratory “We did it!” feast, try not to choke.


~ by Stuart on April 29, 2013.

44 Responses to “Live Below the Line. For a Bit.”

  1. Dang right.

    With the IDS petition, I also worry about the fact that (once he’s sailed through the in-his-case-not-so-terrible ordeal in the way that you describe so well above) he’ll forevermore use it as a stick to beat others. “I survived on nothing, so clearly anyone who insists they can’t is just being feckless. We all need to tighten our belts, you know…”

  2. This is brilliant

  3. There are people who purposely live below the poverty line in the States so as to not support the government; paying no taxes. Doing it like a fad seems so wrong. I have a feeling it will be outed like the whole Kony2012 campaign. I feel like instead of pretending to live like that, send the money where it would do the most good. Very poignant and justified rant, sir.

    • I’ve never heard of that no taxes thing. Crazy. “Dust for supper again, THANKS OBAMA!”

      Initially (before writing this), I thought there was no donation aspect to this whole thing, but from looking on the website, some people are being sponsored. But if you click on the #livebelowtheline hashtag, it’s full of people loling about the fun of it all, and posting Instagrams of the huge stack of pancakes they’re going to have the moment they’re finished. Cheers.

      • As this seems to have struck a nerve with other readers; this is an article that shows US poverty levels and federal taxation.
        I don’t know how this relates or translates to the UK, but I imagine that it would be similar. Regardless, the thrust of the movement gets sullied, especially by people who seem to be in the thick of it, when others take it so lighthearted. I am ashamed for them.

      • The other fad that gets me is posh students buying from charity shops because the stuff is ‘so vintage.’

        To be honest, charity shop clothes are supposed to be affordable for a reason, and it’s not for the likes of Tristan and Dana to pose around in and feel like they’re making a contribution.

  4. Very interesting article. Reminds me of – where Iain Duncan Smith pulled out of a similar poverty endurance challenge after finding out his wife had been diagnosed with cancer. Whilst it would be a hard-hearted man who would argue that he shouldn’t have done everything in his power for her, this is *exactly* the kind of real-life problem that makes genuine poverty so much more than the fun rag week game it’s being painted as. No one else in that tower block would’ve been airlifted to a £2million country mansion in that situation, it would’ve just made their already difficult life significantly harder and more unpleasant.

    • I remember that show. I think I watched it specifically to make poo jokes about Mark Oaten. (“I gave him a haircut. He wanted a number two all over”, that kind of thing)

      But yeah, that’s exactly the thing. Unless you go all-in and permanently cut all ties for good, there’s no way to come anywhere close to the dehumanising sense of hopelessness that’s the true killer of poverty. These lurking, potential unforeseen circumstances that cause the tourists to hit the stop button are the same things that keep the people in it for real awake at night in terror.

      And ‘rag week’ is definitely appropriate if you check the #livebelowtheline hashtag, where everyone’s treating it with the chucklesome attitude of wearing a onesie to work for Comic Relief.

  5. Btw, I have no idea what rag week means, I just ran out of words.

  6. Do you think that raising $2 million last year in Australia alone still makes this cause laughable? Do you fight against poverty like these people are trying to? I’m sure that some don’t do the cause justice, but the majority are taking the challenge to try to do something, rather than the alternative of sitting back complacently as so much injustice goes on in this world. If you knew anything about the campaign then you would know that in fact many people are doing it for a whole month, going without electricity, sleeping on the floor and giving up all transport apart from their feet in order to raise awareness about poverty and money to help those in need. I know, as I’m sure they do, that we cannot understand what it is like to live below the line, but if that were a reason to not do anything about it then prospects for progress would be pretty grim. Maybe you should talk to someone taking the challenge. It might change your views. If you’re lucky it might even help you believe that you don’t need to fully understand someone to make a difference to their life.

    • “Do you fight against poverty like these people are trying to?”

      My daily existence, my daily *survival*, is a fight against poverty. Maybe you picked up on the super-subtle cues within the post.

      Look, I’m sure there’s an admirable way to do this, and that good can and does come of it, but the public face of Live Below, the news articles and hashtaggers and bloggers, are skewed way towards idiots treating it like a funrun, and giggling on Instagram over bowls of own-brand couscous, and food-porn shots of what they’ll gorge on when it’s all over.

      If you’re approaching this in a deeper way that isn’t so twatty, with genuine good intentions, more power to you, but as someone who lives this 24/7, it’s incredibly offensive to see people who want to play at the game of being poor for 5 days, and make a big show of it like they’ve made some grand, heroic gesture by holding off on the best stuff in their fridge until the weekend.

      • I’m sorry to hear that your daily survival is a fight against poverty, and I hope that you can give the benefit of the doubt to the many people involved in this campaign that are doing it for the right reasons. Please don’t lose hope in those that really are trying to do something.

      • I’ve got no problem with people, at any time, trying to genuinely affect change, or anyone smart enough to step back from the facile ‘£1 a day for 5 days’ gimmick and embrace the bigger picture. Seems like you’re coming from the right place.

        Thanks for your comments.

    • Rachel – have you ever actually gotten involved with home grown charities? I’m suggesting Meals on Wheels, hospital radio, community beautification projects ect? I’m not trying to suggest anything bad just curious is all.

  7. This is my fourth year now doing this campaign and every year has been a different and ever enlightening experience.

    The fact that ppl don’t do this challenge properly just goes to show the stark contrast of the world that we live in and the world these people living in extreme poverty live in. Could we ever fully experience it here? No. It is just to give us a glimpse of the lack of choice and nutrition these ppl face daily. Sure it can be viewed as 1 dimensional in that sense, but I have definitively learnt something from that 1 dimension every year and will choose to continue to do so.

    It is a great campaign to do as a community, maybe you and your friends should give it a go sometime and then make comment on it.

    • Like I said in the post, I don’t need to ‘give it a go sometime’ as I live like that for realsies, every day.

    • Yeah I’ve been there and done that Shane, it was called reality for 2 years on the dole. Maybe dial back the patronising tone and realise maybe that’s what Stuart was trying to get at.

  8. I understand your argument on how LBL might come across as offensive to those who ‘live below the line’ in daily lives, you weren’t the first to express such notion.
    I have been doing LBL for three years now because of its deliverables. From funds raised last year in Australia, a regional school in Cambodia now has year 8 class and children who were positioned to work to support their family have been given scholarship so they can continue on with education. I believe that education is the way to go to eliminate poverty. The campaign has been rapidly growing since its it’s initial launch in 2010 and it shows me that there are more people who want to do something good in their lives, to help someone that they never met before by sacrificing few luxuries. And this gives me hope in the humanity.
    Yeah, so if I can only eat potatoes for 5days and give a child a chance to live our their dreams, I’ll eat potatoes for 5 days.

  9. For starters the guy in the photograph is clearly NOT living below the line because he is drinking wine and well people who take LBL seriously fully commit to $2 a day for food and drink. you clearly have never witnessed someone doing LBL properly and for the right reasons. my sister lived on $2 a day for a month and raised $8000 AUD she did this on top of three jobs, uni and managing a charity. i think that is an amazing achievement and it’s sad that someone like you cannot appreciate that it’s a brilliant thing that so many people want to raise awareness and money for global poverty. i myself feel genuinely sorry for people who live in poverty through no fault of their own, thats why i did LBL at the age of 14. LBL is no different to any other fundraisers so i don’t understand why you had to disrespect it. its about helping to build schools and educate those living in third world countries. maybe you should try some charity work and then you’ll understand what its like to feel rewarded in ways other than money. p.s i don’t understand how you have internet access and published books yet you live on 1 pound a day

    • Here’s the story where I took that picture from:

      Nothing there to even suggest there’s a fundraising aspect to this, like all of the coverage or LBTLers over here in the UK. I can’t help but notice that this flurry of new comments are all from Australia, so maybe the angle there is different, but I’ve not heard a single mention of fundraising from any Brits or British media.

      And your ps, “i don’t understand how you have internet access and published books yet you live on 1 pound a day”, fuck off, eh?

      It never takes long for that to come to the surface. It’s that same sneering attitude people use when complaining about those on benefits. “I saw him in Tesco, buying a packet of 18p instant noodles, living it up. He was wearing shoes and everything! Disgusting! He should have been in a barrel held up with braces, not swanning about like a high lord!”

      Yeah, because I should literally be in a ditch with zero quality of life, unable to comment or hold opinions. Look at me, like some rapper on MTV Cribs with my internet access and free to publish Kindle books that I put out by myself for nothing. Way to expose that horrible class prejudice simmering under the surface. See also, politicians and shitty right-wing media like the Daily Mail still, in 2013, angrily using the ownership of a flatscreen TV as the ultimate example of those who *say* they’re poor living extravagantly. Try getting hold of a CRT without the use of a time machine.

      So at what point would my opinion become valid? When I’m literally homeless?

      “*Apparently* you’re a hobo, but you’ve got trousers on, and you haven’t died from starvation, so…”

    • Frankie, do you mind dialling back the middle class entitled patronising tone just a tad?

      Oh what would those poor uneducated folk in 3rd world countries do without the brave westerners like you willing to do your token work. Maybe they’d hire local workers with the skills and time to take over from the projects people like you go in and botch?

  10. Frankie – isn’t it kinda telling that so called “evil corporations” make their service affordable to those on the poverty line whilst the government stick their boot in, and the media demonise them for having even the most basic standard of living?

    It’s 20-fucking-13! Having access to the internet shouldn’t be considered an extravagant luxury in any developed nation. Being generous as I am though, I’d prefer to think that rather than exposing your class prejudices this is rather just an indication that you haven’t really given it much thought, and are just parroting the media agenda of what is and isn’t an acceptable standard of living for the poor.

  11. This is my last post on this because I think that these comments are hilarious. It’s like these last couple commenters are contradicting themselves and putting a negative light on a campaign that was created for positive outcomes. Stuart is the one who has stereotyped himself not me I am merely standing up for the hard work of my sister and her many charity-worker friends and this brilliant cause. Good luck LBL-ers

    • Frankie, learn what irony is. Then take the pack of pretentious middle class fucksticks and your misguided bullshit charity and go back to your entitled, probably funded by mummy and daddy life.

      I can already tell that no matter how much you brag about your petty so-called charity work you’re actually an awful human being.

  12. I think you might have missed the point of my post. I didn’t comment on LBTL at all.. I was merely addressing your ridiculous notion that a “real poor person” wouldn’t have access to the internet, as if that somehow invalidates Stuart’s position.

    • I think the fact that Live Below the Line has sparked this conversation is a testament to the awareness it creates. There is not much more we can do to raise awareness about extreme poverty than to get thousands of people across the world putting themselves through this challenge to get a glimpse of what it might be like for those living below the poverty line. Yes living off of $2/£1 a day is not an exact replica of what it is like in fact the people we are raising money for ( check to see where your countries funds go to) only have £1 for everything in their life, food transport, healthcare, education. The fact you are writing your opinions on an online blog shows you have not gone through what these people have, which is ok you don’t have to have done that. But don’t knock people down for trying to help others. Live Below the line being in the media is awesome more people will hear about the challenge and more people will help! Why don’t you write something positive or sponsor the guy in the article. Don’t put him down for helping.

      • And having access to the Internet is an absolute luxury! Check the stats but 70% of the world don’t have access to the Internet!
        That is a luxury.

      • Luxury is all relative. Will someone not be able to claim they’re living the LBTL lifestyle for real until they’re stripped back to not even having clean running water?

        This weird diversion in the topic kinda proves my point about how hard it is to comprehend that gulf between regular living and the dehumanising existence of poverty. Apparently now ‘signing up to a free WordPress blog’ lifts me out of the 99%?

        Of all the reactions to this piece, the one I was not expecting was annoyance because I have the temerity to be soul-crushingly super broke, but not so broke that I’m actually dead. Fuck me, right?

  13. Check the stats? OK, don’t mind if I do… Oh, from about 5 seconds of research, it looks like in 2011, 74% of people in developed countries had internet access.

    I do acknowledge your implicit point about the difference between the poverty line in developed countries and undeveloped, but I don’t think you have, and have conflated two different points to create a false argument.

  14. Exactly, thats what i’ve said, living off of $2 a day gives you a glimpse of what it might be like. They arent actually living in poverty just giving people an idea of what it is like. I think the reason im angry and bring up the fact that having access to the internet is a luxury is because you said you dont need to take part in/give credit to live below the line, because you ‘live like that for realsies every day’. And i think you will agree that you have access to healthcare, shelter, education and maybe only have a pound for food or drink but you can still read and write.

    Im done with this.
    Good Luck.

  15. And Akhil, im talking about the world, not developed countries.

  16. I haven’t seen this many straw men since my last visit to Summerisle.

  17. “And i think you will agree that you have access to healthcare, shelter, education, maybe only have a pound for food or drink but you can still read and write.”

    Yeah, because as we all know poor people can’t read. This is really starting to look like a class thing. There’s nothing that steams my spuds more than the middle and upper classes ruffling hair and doing something for “the little guy” from some ivory tower where being poor is being illiterate, unable to wash yourself, and all that jazz.

    It’s like when Queen Victoria refused to believe lesbian didn’t exist, now it’s people refusing to believe there’s a developed poor.

  18. Gareth, live below the line funds education projects. Hence the reference. Im not saying that poor people cant write, im saying people living in extreme poverty dont have access to good quality education.

    • How would you know? You don’t live their life, all you get is tiny window viewed through the eyes of someone privileged enough to have a choice.

  19. Personally, I find the tone of this post offensive. Live Below the Line is an awareness campaign but it also raises money for thousands of people living in genuine poverty, who dearly need it. Are you saying that those millions of dollars Live Below the Line raised last year are insignificant because the people doing it don’t understand real poverty? Those of us lucky enough to live in a first world country may never understand the true meaning of poverty and perhaps more of us should go out and try and experience it directly but live below the line is a window into that world. A lot of us who participate in this are in our teens and early twenties and have never experienced this kind of fasting before, but after my five days, last year I was a lot more aware of my food usage and wastage and I was a lot more grateful for what I have. Is that a bad thing? Doesn’t the ends justify the means here? Maybe the idea of Live Below the Line isn’t perfect but I don’t think you should damn people for trying.

    • Clearly missing the point o the post. As Stuart said ” it’s incredibly offensive to see people who want to play at the game of being poor for 5 days, and make a big show of it like they’ve made some grand, heroic gesture by holding off on the best stuff in their fridge until the weekend.” It’s not the movement, its the people making it out to be some fad when other people are genuinely poor and can’t take food porn pictures or coming across like total saviors.

    • Macey, I find you offensive, I find your sneering, pretend middle class faux charity work offensive. I find the fact that you go on your little charity tourism trips (admit it – you’ve probably went on a ‘gap yah’) so you can feel good about yourself pretty fucking offensive too. Your charity is bullshit, your aim and causes are bullshit. You might raise money but do you have any idea where that money is going? Can you confirm that all the money you raise is going to the actual projects and not into the hands of some greedy, corrupt government official, as so often happens with these kind of schemes.

      Here – I think this article applies to you. And the increasingly suburban-named commenters that are suddenly appearing.

  20. […] […]

  21. Interesting article here:

  22. Reblogged this on ilpenseroso.

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