Reporter Adam Thompson took up the challenge to find out how easy it would be for Iain Duncan Smith to live on £53 a week.
Mrs Thatcher’s legacy, the threat of nuclear war in North Korea, can Wolves beat the drop?
They’re all subjects doing the rounds in pubs and at bus stops across the West Midlands.
But what about the 53 question? Or at least the £53 question?
That’s the amount that is supposed to be all that is left for a market stall-holder in County Durham, after "rent and bills".
And it’s caused major political ructions after work and pensions minister Iain Duncan Smith said that he could easily live day-to-day on that sum.
Already, more than half-a-million people have backed an online campaign to get Mr Duncan Smith to effectively put his mouth where his money is.
Here’s how reporter Adam Thompson coped with living on £53 a week.
My plan is to treat this as I would a holiday by setting a daily budget and trying to stick to it.
Memo to self: Do not be trigger happy with cash as the reality of £53 a week is £7.57p a day.
Missing breakfast turns out to be a costly mistake as nipping into a café for a sandwich and a coffee sets me back me £2. That’s more than a quarter of the daily allowance gone before 10am and starts to bring home that £53 is not going to be easy.
Fortunately, lunch had been prepared the night before so cost nothing although, obviously, that sort of option wouldn’t have been available to everyone every week.
Pasta and leftover turkey for tea. The only challenge seems to be finding variety in the food I eat. I wouldn’t be surprised if this meal cropped up a few times this week.
Spend £2. Total so far £2
I lose a tenth of the daily budget when buying a bottle of water but make up for it by feasting on a banana (12p) and a sandwich of leftover turkey from the fridge.
Luckily, I don’t have to pay for parking, nor do I have a lengthy trip into work that would drink my fuel. But this wouldn’t be the case for many people across the country.
I’m not sure that Mr Duncan Smith has had to do much in the way of paying and displaying recently.
I’d forgotten there were plans to meet a friend for a drink so was relieved when they called to cancel – £53 can soon be swallowed up on a night out in Wolverhampton.
I had to leave the office but was able to get to the job on foot. I purchased a bottle of juice and a snack on my return for £1.39.
Tea (pasta and sauce) came from the fridge (again), which technically is cheating, but everyone I know has something in there which they can raid when the going gets tough.
I am yet to break £5.
Spent £2.36. Total so far £4.36
Today brings the first hint of a reality check. One look inside the (now well-raided) fridge and it’s obvious a shopping trip is in order.
Now it may not necessarily look like it, but I’m more used to mixing it with the Waitrose crowd in recent months – but on a limited budget it’s time to go with a low-cost supermarket. So hi-ho it’s off to Aldi I go.
Frankly I have to have a good loaf of bread so I’m happy to fork out £1.20 for that. But pate was definitely out of bounds and as for Wensleydale cheese? Forget it. Give me a block of own brand mild cheddar (£2.45) even if I couldn’t afford the crackers to go with it. Two tins of beans for under 40p and meals for the rest of the week were getting sorted in no time at all.
And for pudding? An eight-pack of summer berries yoghurts as a little treat were all mine for £2.30. A diet of beans, toast and yoghurt – it will catch on one day you wait and see.
Throw in some sandwich meat, milk, coffee and one or two bits and bobs and I’m sorted. The bill came to £14.86. I had to cover a council meeting in Lower Penn that would mean a 20-mile round trip. While it’s not the longest of drives, it was the first time I had to monitor my petrol usage.
Spent £14.86. Total so far £19.22
I decided to leave the car at home and catch a bus instead.
While the cost of £3.60 is not budget busting, it’s pretty clear that if you have to spend that every day it would soon eat up a large chunk of the £53.
It’s also becoming clear that going to the pub is a bit of a no-no. It’s not difficult to blow a whole day’s budget on two pints of lager, so I’ve already started to turn down offers to see friends.
That’s fine as a one-off for the week, but for anyone living with such restricted means you can see a life where you hardly ever get to go out.
I had a late night so a sandwich made from Aldi’s finest had to do for my tea, I even ate it with a knife and fork to make it feel like a genuine meal.
The good news is that I’m now four days in and still have money to spend.
Spent £3.60. Total so far £22.82
Despite my best efforts it’s time to refill the car with petrol. I thought £20 would be enough to tide me over through the rest of the week. Whichever way you look at it, it’s huge chunk of that £53 and makes the prospect of running a car every week look frankly impossible.
I had to pop into Wolverhampton but felt pretty pleased with myself when I remembered to check out parking charges online. Oxford Street Car Park offered a £2 flat rate for the whole day so I opted to park there.
But what is given with one hand is quickly taken away by another and so it is that I bump into a friend who I’d not seen since last year. Inevitably we ended up going for a pint and a catch-up. I tried to decline (honest), but he twisted my arm and my wallet was £1.35 lighter after a quick half.
Spent £23.35. Total so far £46.17
I have £6.83 to last me the next two days and I’m starting to feel confident I can do this. I went to dad’s for lunch – which I’m not going to turn down – and when my mum offered to make my tea it felt like I’d got a right result.
So today is a no-spend day, but I’m becoming increasingly aware that I haven’t had to even consider anything like a mobile phone contract or car insurance. Bills like that would, I estimate, have pushed my spending way above – and possibly as much as double – my £53 target.
Spent £0. Total so far £41.17
With £6.83 still left on the budget, it’s time for blowout so I treat myself to a meal-deal lunch costing £3.
Yes, I’m left with more 20 per cent of my budget but that couldn’t buy a ticket to most football games and we all know how much a trip to the cinema can cost.
Spent £3. Total £49.17
In reality, the week hasn’t been as taxing as I had anticipated, but it’s fortunate that nothing went wrong with my car and I didn’t really have to do a proper shop. Saving for a holiday or indeed any luxury would be impossible.
I don’t have any children but I’m lucky that I had family close by to offer support (not to mention the odd, very welcome bite to eat). There’s also the psychological challenge of having to constantly watch the pennies. My sympathy certainly goes out to people trying to do this on a regular basis.
So, what advice for Mr Duncan Smith? Well, to avoid the Strangers’ Bar in the House of Commons and have a word with your mate Boris about dropping the Congestion Charge.
Could you live on £53 a week? We went to Walsall to find out:Subscribe to our Newsletter