Getting a taste of life on the poverty line

Charity effort: Tom Hughes, who is raising money for charity by feeding himself on �1 a day.
Charity effort: Tom Hughes, who is raising money for charity by feeding himself on �1 a day.
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One Sheffield man is challenging himself to feed himself on just £1 a day. Star reporter Rachael Clegg looks across the spectrum of poverty in South Yorkshire and how it affects families.

TOM Hughes knows little about poverty.

Brought up in Dore, university educated and living in a house-share in Leeds, he is far from impoverished.

But this month Tom, along with hundreds of volunteers across the country, will give up luxuries such as chocolate and alcohol to live on the poverty line, on a budget of just £1 per day for food and drink.

Tom, 22, was inspired to live on the poverty line after travelling to Sierra Leone with Christian Aid in 2011, where 94 per cent of people in the country’s Bothe region did not have enough money to feed their own families.

“When I was in Sierra Leone I met people on the poverty line - families who were struggling to feed themselves and seeing these families live below the poverty line made me want to put myself through the test of having to live off £1 for a number of days.”

The challenge is part of a campaign run by Global Poverty Project. Last year more than 10,000 people took on the challenge and raised more than £1 million for charity partners, including Christian Aid.

Tom will live off oats, water and rice throughout the five days, in a desperate attempt to stick to his budget. “It’s amazing how much you take things for granted though - you only have to buy a bar of chocolate from a vending machine and that’s most of your £1 budget gone.”

Tom is trying to encourage his whole family - all based in Dore - to take on the challenge. “If families do it together it will make the challenge so much easier as they can encourage each other.”

But while Tom’s charity work is aimed at raising awareness of poverty across the globe, there are many British families who are already living on the poverty line.

Charlotte Williams runs a community centre in Thurnscoe, providing after school clubs for parents in the community. She said that more and more parents are reporting that they are struggling to feed their children. These parents aren’t homeless, they’re not on benefits - the majority are hard-working people on low wages.

“It is really difficult for families at the moment. Most of the parents that come here are not on benefits but they are finding that every other bill that comes through the door is increasing and their wages aren’t. The food staples have gone up too - pasta, eggs and bread have all gone up. It’s not about the luxury items - it’s the bare essentials that’s costing people more money.”

Station House provides a late ‘high tea’ for children in the after school club, but according to Charlotte anecdotal evidence is suggesting that this is a main meal for many children. “It used to be that they would have their tea with us and then go on to have a supplementary meal with the family but now we are seeing that this is their main meal.”

The group of people Charlotte identifies are referred to by food-bank charity the Trussell Trust as the ‘hidden hungry’ - and it’s this group that the Trussell Trust has worked hard to support, with food banks across the country - not least two in South Yorkshire.

South Yorkshire has some of the most poverty-stricken areas in the whole of the UK. Last year, statistics showed that Rotherham is one of the worst-affected boroughs.

The man behind bringing the Trussell Trust to Rotherham is minister the Reverend Danny Miller, who wants to help Rotherham families facing hardship and poverty.

He said: “As a church we want to reach out and be relevant to people. It’s all very well giving the message of the Gospel and that’s great but we also need to feed people. I don’t want to tell people about the Lord and leave them hungry.”

“With rising food prices and the cost of living being so high many families are struggling and have been for months.

“Food is the first thing to go after mortgage and credit cards payments and the people most affected by this are children.”

Rotherham has the highest proportion of people on minimum wage in the country with 31 per cent of the borough’s population on a wage that pays less than £7 per hour, which means that the hike in living costs is particularly hard felt.

But things are getting worse. Last year, the Trussell Trust gave food boxes to 60,000 people. This year, it’s already given them to 120,000 people.

This is no surprise - there are already 13.2 million people below the poverty line in the UK.

But Tom’s keen to stress that while Britain’s facing its own issues, we shouldn’t overlook the needs of the developing world.

That is why he’s keen to encourage families to try his £1 a day challenge.

“It’s an issue we have to think about - while there are problems in the UK most of us can’t appreciate what it’s like to go hungry.”

Thousands of people across the UK will be joining Tom on May 7 for five days of living off £1 a day.

How the Trussell Trust is helping people

Trussell Trust Foodbanks help prevent crime, housing loss, family breakdown and mental health problems.

All food is donated by the public and sorted by volunteers.

Frontline care professionals such as doctors and social workers identify people in crisis and issue a food voucher.

Clients receive three days’ worth of nutritionally balanced, non-perishable food in exchange for their food voucher.

The Trussell Trust has given meals to 120,000 people nationwide this year.

The Trust’s executive chairman Chris Mould said there had been a huge increase in demand in recent months and there were 36,000 children among the hungry.

Chris added: “What we have seen suggests there are thousands of people in this country going hungry – making hard choices between, fuel, warmth, transport and food.

“The pressure falls hardest on mothers and children.”