The media has been full of people talking about how they could live on £53 a week recently but, even if someone takes up the challenge, it will not prove a thing.
If anything, it will camouflage the reality of living in poverty and hardship.
Many people think that it’s possible to live on £53 a week. Those people generally don’t have to – but they are right, it is physically possible. After heating, lighting, phone and a few bus journeys there may be about £12 a week left for food – and, yes, with careful buying and home cooking it could be done, although there would be no cleaning or washing of clothes or people.
But all of this misses the point.
The message seems to be: if you live off the state then you have to live a joyless existence. And £53 a week, every week, is certainly joyless.
The real point, and the point the government seems to be trying to make, is: if you want nice things (or even just things) then you must earn your own money. This is where the stunt of living on £53 a week, a stunt that Iain Duncan Smith or others will inevitably pull, will camouflage the real issues.
Most people who can’t make ends meet, who struggle to feed their families first and themselves second, who are the most punished by these reforms, aspire to better things. The politicians who insinuate that people don’t want to work, and therefore deserve all they get, can never emulate the lives of real people in poverty.
In these times getting a job is not easy. Many more people are out of work and competition for work is high. To secure a job, you need – at the very least -:
Basic education and key skills
A network of supportive friends and peers
Work experience opportunities
Experience of different places and people
Self-belief and confidence
Financial help at key times
The majority of the population (and almost certainly Iain Duncan Smith) have had most of these in their lives.
And the point is, if you have them, not only could you live on £53 a week, you could lift yourself out of poverty, get a job and reduce your benefit dependency.
But without them? Well, Iain Duncan Smith will never know.