You Can Live on £53 a Week Says BBC DJ #IDS #Benefits

Jonathan Vernon-Smith, a self styled consumer champion, is a radio presenter for the BBC. He took up Iain Duncan Smith's gauntlet when the  Secretary of State for Work and Pensions famously suggested that it was possible to live on £53 a week.  On his programme today, for BBC Three Counties Radio, JVS said he lived on that, and had £7 to spare. 

Iain Duncan Smith: photo: Wikipedia
On April Fools' Day 2013, Iain Duncan Smith claimed he could live on £53 per week as Work and Pensions Secretary, after a benefits claimant told the BBC he had £53 per week after housing costs. Subsequently a petition was started on for him to do so for a year; it reached 300,000 supporters by 7:30 P.M. the next day, with further names added that evening at a rate of 12,000 per hour. The petition was handed in one week later with 460 thousand signatures

Jonathan Vernon-Smith's breakdown was £18 a week for electricity and water based on 1/52 of his annual bills, £2 a week on cat biscuits (but queried if pets were not a luxury that should be discounted), £20 a week on food, £5 a week on  household and personal toiletries. This left him the remainder to fritter away on other luxuries that he famously craves, including his favourite wine, pinot grigio.

The reality was that he didn't actually live that sort of life. He was on his show every day that week, no doubt travelling around in his personal transport, enjoying heating supplied by the various offices he visits; he certainly wasn't slumming it at home.

I wondered if he factored in extra toilet flushes, extra loo roll, and extra heating costs, because he would have been spending more time at home consuming things like that, that the BBC provides for him while he's at work.

This lead me to wonder what else he'd left off? Is he planning to be buried at state expense? If not he'll need to keep up payments on insurance. I've paid £1.34 a month since I started earning, that will help with mine. Then there is insurance on home and contents to consider, unless he's hoping as a benefits person to get all that sorted for him, should a catastrophe arise.

Does he have gas? It's very important to factor in gas boiler maintenance, allow at least £3 a week to maintain that.

To the comment that he hadn't factored in clothing, he replied that people could buy clothes in charity shops. Fair do's. It still needs factoring in. I have purchased button up tee-shirts in the past from Age Concern, a third the cost of shop bought new, but you find they don't last - the collars go - so you would actually be replacing more frequently, so the longevity of such items is doubtful 

Maybe he was thinking of taking up knitting as a hobby, or making his own clothes rather than pay for shop bought ones. Fine. Just remember to factor in the cost of sewing machines, knitting needles, cotton, wool, and materials.

So, he's not going to listen to the BBC on radio or watch tv? I bet! Come on, add £3 a week. On the other hand, he won't have a car to sit in to listen to the radio, either, so with no tv or radio in the house he wouldn't actually need a tv licence. Besides, with all the time he'll save not watching or listening, he can bake (oops! up goes the electricity bill) a few scones to help eek out the food budget, and save for his non existent clothing budget. 

I'm still wondering how he's going to get around. He'll need to visit the library to use their internet service and computers as he won't be able to afford his own. His solution is to walk or use a bicycle. Nothing wrong with that. People walked everywhere before motorised transport was invented. Unless they were lucky enough to own a horse or ride on someone's cart, walking was the done thing. In fact, on my heritage blog I recall the story of a Houghton Regis lady who walked the 6 miles to Luton 6 days a week. But that was 160 years ago. But if you want a bicycle, JVS, you need to factor in the cost of buying that, even if it's second hand.

JVS on Facebook
JVS - show excerpt with Dame Anne Beg - audibo


  1. You talk about putting money aside for your funeral or contents insurance. Surely the point of these kind of benefits is to help someone on a temporary basis, not give them a sustainable long term lifestyle. They can start saving and putting money away for such things when they get back on their feet.

    The reality is that things like cars/television/internet/phones are luxuries. That may be an unusual concept in our part of the world but it's something we shouldn't lose sight of. We can and may well have to manage without them when times are tough.

    Also don't forget that £53 is the minimum. In JVS's case he made the point that if he were to go on benefits now he would actually be entitled to more but nevertheless he found that, whether you like it or not, it was perfectly do-able (though not neccessarily pleasant) to manage on the smallest amount.

  2. You don't need a license to listen to the radio.

    The £53 is a small amount but it is supposed to be short term help, not a permanent solution. It is not going to be easy, but then with frozen wages and costs increasing for the working population, life is not easy for many at the moment.

    Personally I think unemployment based benefits should be higher, but paid for a much shorter period of time.

  3. I think any specific amount or ideas particularly for money to be the same for long time it's really rare and £53 is really gonna be rare too after some time but they should avail it who could afford.



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