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It costs a lot to be poor, you know…

Diane Hall


One and two pound coins and other sterling coins. UK sterling coinage / pocket change.

Aldi was crowned the cheapest supermarket last week, having beaten rival Lidl, which held the title throughout 2020.

I do the majority of my shopping at Aldi and can’t fault the supermarket. It’s many years since I’ve done a full weekly shop in any other major supermarket to properly compare prices; however, I know that, when I did my weekly shop at Tescos in the early noughties, I was spending more or less the same as I do now, which tells me all I need to know.

A lot has been made of the rising cost of living, as well as the gap widening between rich and poor. I know from experience that it costs much, much more to be poor than the well-off would ever imagine…for example, having to buy and maintain a cheap car costs more over time than running a new one, but if your credit history is rubbish and you’re living hand-to-mouth, i.e. no savings, you have no choice but to buy the car that costs a thousand pounds, knowing that you will have to pay at least a few hundred each MOT to keep it on the road. You’re forced to buy insurance, mobile phone contracts and similar subscriptions on a monthly basis because you don’t have the money to pay the annual price outright, but in doing so, you pay far more overall.

If you’re someone living on the breadline, with no savings, you’ll likely be familiar with your bank’s unplanned overdraft facility…some people can’t always get far enough in front to pay their Direct Debits when they’re due. These then bounce, and you’re subsequently charged by the bank (and sometimes by the company whose bill you’re trying to pay) for this misdemeanour. The following month, because extra money doesn’t suddenly appear, your budget is even less, because these charges have made a dent in your income, and the whole cycle starts again.

Until you’ve been there, it’s hard to envisage how a debt situation can spiral out of control. Robbing Peter to pay Paul only works for so long—one day, both Peter and Paul will turn up, with their friends, Bill One, Bill Two and Bill Three, demanding their money…and they won’t go away.

The gap between rich and poor is widening all the time. More than one in five of the entire UK population are classed as living in poverty, which means they’re not exactly a minority, yet no one championing on their behalf seems to be getting anywhere.

Wooden houses in a supermarket trolley and red arrow up

Wooden houses in a supermarket trolley and red arrow up

I saw an interesting Twitter thread by Jack Munroe, the ‘Bootstrap Cook’. In it, they explain how the rise in food prices has hit the poor harder, with the vast majority of products escalating in price being those the most hard-up amongst us would buy. Look at these prices:

  • Own brand supermarket pasta – 29p for 500g last year, now it costs 70p (141% price increase)

  • Own brand supermarket rice – 45p for a kilo last year, now it’s £1 for 500g (344% price increase)

  • Supermarket brand beans – 22p last year, now 32p (45% increase)

  • Canned spaghetti – was 13p last year, now 35p (169% price increase)

  • Supermarket bread – was 45p, now 58p (29% increase)

  • Supermarket curry sauce – was 30p, now 89p (196% increase)

  • A bag of small apples – was 59p, now 89p (51% increase – and Jack says the apples are now even smaller)

  • Mushrooms - were 59p for 400g, now 57p for 250g. (56% increase) The practice of making products smaller while keeping them the same price is known in the retail industry as ‘shrinkflation’.

  • Supermarket branded peanut butter - was 62p, now £1.50 (142% increase)

These increases may sound insignificant to someone who doesn’t have to really think about the price of food when shopping, as it’s only ‘a few pence’ each item. But when your whole food budget comes down to £5 a day, for example, your experience of the current price rises on food will be very, very different.

To give context to these prices, Jack adds this: ‘An upmarket ready meal range was £7.50 ten years ago, and it’s still £7.50 today. A high-end store’s ‘Dine In For Two For £10’ has been £10 for as long as I can remember. If the price of these had risen at the same rate as the cheapest rice in the supermarket, that £7.50 lasagne would now cost £25.80. ‘Dine In For £10’ would be £34.40.’

Can you imagine the rich putting up with price hikes like these? Of course, they wouldn’t, but it’s okay for the poor to have their income squeezed when they’re already desperately struggling.

If you’ve read this far and this situation doesn’t disgust you, having money has obliterated your empathy chip and eroded your humanity.

I know that our benefit system is flawed and that people manipulate the rules (happy to tell you why in another article if you’re interested), but benefit cheats make up a very small portion of the 20% living in poverty within our civilised society. The majority of poor people are already working full time, and working hard, with nothing in reserve. The downward spiral into debt and/or poverty can occur very quickly, but it can take years and years—generations, even—for someone to climb up and out of their situation.

Food price rises are only one of the challenges poor people are facing. Energy prices have hiked for consumers, yet Sky News reports that the oil and gas companies situated in the North Sea will enjoy a ‘record income’ this year. The figures they’re set to post have not been seen since the 2008 crash. Clearly, a lack of money isn’t necessarily the issue in a recession, all it does is allow some companies/people to hoard it.

I’m not an economist nor an expert on price rises, I’m just someone who read Munroe’s thread and was utterly appalled at the disparity between the haves and the have nots.

We’re not all in this together.

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