guest blog: living below the line

Our friend Steph Cooper is a Regional Coordinator for Christian Aid in Yorkshire. From 2-6 May, together with her husband Rob and daughter Sammi, she took part in The Global Poverty Project’s awareness and funds raising challenge Live Below the Line. For five days, each of them had just £1 each per day to spend on all their food. We caught up with her to see how the experience had affected them.

Steph Cooper

Steph is no stranger to statistics like the one about 1.4 billion people in the world living on less than a dollar a day… but her week taking part in Live Below the Line has given her a new glimpse of the reality behind the numbers, and a new respect for the unique individuals who battle extreme poverty every day.


“I would say that I’m almost in awe of them as to how much they manage and cope with… how creative they are to find a way to support their families at all.

“I only did this for five days and only with my food – everything else was the same. I still had shelter, and petrol in the car. But families living in poverty have to pay for everything from this tiny amount – and they have to work so hard to earn it – many of them have even less than this, and it’s not even a secure income.

“I took part because I wanted, in some small way, to experience what it might be like. It’s so easy to trot out the statistics, even to become quite blaze about it; it’s easy to lump 1.4 billion people together. But they are all unique individuals with their own thoughts and feelings.

“Even this small reflection of their experience was very hard. Some of the most difficult things were:

  1. going to the supermarket because we could hardly afford anything. We got the cheapest stuff possible – the basic range – which was not at all healthy. We really did have to scour the shop for things we could afford – it was depressing.

  2. the first day, which was Bank Holiday Monday, we had an event at church (Haxby Methodist), and then family over later in the afternoon. People kept offering us cakes at church and then at home, we had to serve nice food to our family, but couldn’t eat any of it ourselves.

  3. health and energy levels. On the Tuesday I felt very irritable, and throughout the week I was craving fruit and vegetables. Rob had to stop a squash game halfway through because he didn’t have enough energy to keep going.

“This was unsurprising really, with just £15 for the five days between the three of us our options were limited, and our portions small – breakfast was porridge made with water and a teaspoon of value jam; lunch was cheap sliced bread with a scraping of spread, or maybe a cheap cuppa soup and dinner was usually pasta with not a lot, sometimes baked beans or tinned tomatoes.

“But really these practical issues were secondary to the sense of disempowerment we felt. We couldn’t participate in things. If someone invited us for a coffee or a drink we had to say no, because our budget didn’t extend to that.

“However, there were some positive things about it. As a family, we talked more, and it led to conversations with all sorts of people in surprising settings.

“I also found it amazing how quickly our bodies adapted. By the end of the week it was easier – we had got used to smaller portions, and were just craving the fruit and vegetables we really needed rather than treats.

“I’m not unrealistic enough to think we will change everything about our shopping, or not to realise that in a few weeks time we are likely to drift a bit. But it has really made us think again about how much we need, and how much we spend.

“Because the memory of an experience like this does stay with you.

“Christian Aid has a vision of Poverty over – we say regularly that poverty is a scandal – experiencing it in some small way showed me again just how much of a scandal it is. And how everything we do to help – especially through our praying, campaigning and giving in Christian Aid Week next week (15-21 May) and the amazing work of our partners on the ground all year round – can encourage and help people.

“The lectionary readings since Easter have all been about hope and life. Again, it’s brought home to me, how can we say we love God, and then do nothing to help our brothers and sisters?”

Our thanks to Steph Cooper for sharing her experiences. Today, let’s pray for the 1.4 billion people living below the line – for real. (See our Living below the line prayer, and other intercessions for poor communities, in our recently updated written prayers – intercessions responding to global poverty issues.)

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