Earlier this year I met the excellent charity Think Global UK (formerly the Development Education Association) to learn more about their work in schools educating young people about global issues including poverty and sustainability. At the end of the meeting they asked me if I would “Live Below The Line” to raise awareness and funds for their work. I agreed.
Over a billion people across the world live on less than £1 per day – the World Bank’s Extreme Poverty Line. “Living Below The Line” involves thousands of people limiting their daily spend on food and drink to a maximum of £1 – for five days. Of course the poorest people in the poorest parts of the world have £1 or less to spend each day on everything – not just food and drink.
People close to me were sceptical that I would manage to do it. I decided the best approach was to do a week’s shop to benefit from economies of scale – though this did mean basically eating the same meal every day! I spent £4.42 which purchased breakfast cereal, frozen vegetables for home-made soup, a loaf of bread, cream cheese, jam and pasta with tomato, onion & sausage. Not the healthiest diet but actually pretty filling! My “spare” 58p enabled me to have a small amount of milk on my daily cereal and one cup of instant coffee each morning.
On the first morning after the five days were up, I took an early train from Liverpool to London and picked up a coffee and a bacon roll at Lime St – the cost was £5.20!
I am immensely grateful to those who have sponsored me. It’s not too late to donate so any Labour List readers who wish to do so please go here.
Somebody posted on my Facebook page that “Living Below The Line” is a “gimmick” and another friend of mine suggested it’s a bit patronising for well-paid MPs to live on £5 for five days when there are people in this country living on not a lot more than that. He has a point.
I do not think this is a gimmick. I attended a very uplifting event in Liverpool prior to the five days and met others who were taking part – many of them young people. Ed Miliband rightly reminds us that we live in a time when cynicism and disenchantment with politics are high and people are wary of traditional party politics. Initiatives like this engage directly with people’s passion and idealism – raising awareness about Global poverty and inequality as well as raising much-needed funds for brilliant organisations like Think Global.
Making the case for the UK to deliver the UN target of 0.7% for Development Assistance is challenging in this era of austerity. However, it is the right thing to do. This does not mean that we ignore the very real poverty and inequality which scars our own society. Instead we need to make the argument that both are important. In Government, Labour made real progress towards 0.7% and we reduced both Child Poverty and Pensioner Poverty.
Internationalism is a core belief for the Left. As Shadow Education Secretary I am a passionate advocate of Citizenship Education in our schools – a cause that is under real threat from the Tories. I am pleased to have done something to raise awareness and a modest sum of money for a very noble cause.
Stephen Twigg is the Shadow Education Secretary