What’s It Like to Live Below the Line?

Some good friends from church, the Jacobs family, were one group among thousands of other Aussies who recently took part in Live Below the Line. I thought it might be a good opportunity to ask them about the experience and get some insights into what it is like to live below the Australian equivalent of the “poverty line”.

“Live Below the Line will challenge you to live on $2 a day, for 5 days. It opens a window onto the day-to-day experience of extreme poverty…”

Here’s a few questions I asked The Jacobs about their experience…

LLG: What was your main motivation for doing Live Below the Line?

Jacobs: The opportunity arose through Sue’s TEAR group. We did it out of empathy for those less well off and to see how it feels to not have all the resources and opportunities we have in Australia.

LLG: What were the main things you got from the experience? Have you changed anything as a result?

Jacobs: As much as anything a mindset in knowing how expensive things are if you don’t have enough money to get by. Generally more awareness of not having enough and how lucky we are. It reinforced and made us more aware of really how wealthy and well off we all are. Made us more grateful of the choices available to us.

“…food is like gold when it is in limited supply…”

Jacobs: It gave us a tiny insight into what it is like to be in want. When Sue was dividing our weeks food into daily lots she dropped some on the floor and suddenly realised that food is like gold when it is in limited supply and was hit with the burden of providing for the family with limited supply. When it is so finite how important every bit is.

LLG: Can you share some of the details of how you lived on $2/day? What was a typical days worth of food?

Jacobs: We bought $45 worth of food at the start and kept $5 in case we needed something extra as the week went on. We ended up with about $1 to spare at the end. The food pretty much consisted of oats for breakfast, bread and jam for lunch, 1 piece of fruit (6 bruised apples for $1) per day, rice, lentils and frozen vegs + fresh pumpkin dinner. Special treat was pasta and some mince one night and chicken wings another night. Sue shopped keenly to get these things and to make it go as far as it did. We had a jar of pasta sauce which was the only additive for taste. No salt, pepper, soy etc no coffee, tea etc.

LLG: Were you starving??

Jacobs: No the money covered enough quantity but was bland, boring and somewhat unsustaining.

LLG: What foods did you crave/miss the most?

Jacobs: Salt, sugar, treats like chocolate and ice cream and coffee, fresh fruit and veg, sauces and spices.

LLG: Did it affect you health or energy during the week?

Jacobs: Yes our energy levels were down as we all did our usual things, soccer, bike commuting etc. We all lost weight and felt stodgy. Some members of our family were unusually cranky as the week went on.

LLG: What were some of the biggest temptations/hardest situations?

Jacobs: The kids did it really tough with people offering them food at youth group and school experiments using M&Ms and strawberry cream lollies & chocolates. Everyone else eating in front of you, ritual things like morning teas at work etc. Opening the fridge in a habitual way looking to graze.

LLG: Is it possible to live on $2/day in AUS?

Jacobs: For just food, yes. Not at all interesting and perhaps not sustaining or healthy over a long period but short period yes. More than food we can’t imagine how you’d survive with accomodation, clothing education etc included. There are social welfare payments available in a country like Australia that could help, this is not the case in many third world countries. Also with 5 people our buying power was a little stronger than it would be for $2 for 1 person.

We understand $2 day is the Australian equivalent of extreme world poverty under which 1.4 billion people in the world live. Extreme poverty is different to the poverty line which is described as the amount of disposable income required to support the basic needs. The poverty line in Australia is quoted as $307 (excluding housing) or $457 (including housing) for a single person by the Melbourne Institute for Dec quarter 2011 (http://melbourneinstitute.com/miaesr/publications/indicators/poverty-lines-australia.html).

LLG: Can you share a few of the reactions people had to you doing it… do you think anyone you know has been impacted or challenged as a result?

“Our main aim was to raise awareness… and this definitely happened”

Jacobs: Most people were really generous and supportive. Some of the kids friends thought they were mad and needed a lot of explanation as to what it was all about. I guess once a gain it shows how lucky we are and how removed we can be from the issue. Some people were quite stingy both in support and their world view, explaning that people in poor countries choose to buy weapons rather than food. Whilst this may be true of some leaders it was difficult to convince a few people we spoke to that there was little poor people could do for themselves other than try to survive.

We think many people have been impacted on at some level. Our main aim was to raise awareness (and some money) and this definitely happened. We were surprised how many people wanted to discuss it with us.

LLG: How did people respond to you asking for support?

Jacobs: Most were positive but not all donated. We really only asked by email and social media so we weren’t aware of attitudes to giving other than in our discussions of the issue. That is, we didn’t do much direct asking people to donate – we made them aware of the option and left it to them. Some people especially the kids were very generous in their donations.

LLG: How much did you guys end up raising? How was this compared to your expectations?

Jacobs: We set our initial target at $500 not knowing what to expect. we went passed that and raised it to $750 then again to $1,000. We have now raised $1,010 through other people’s generosity. Significantly the cause as a whole in Australia has raised over $1.8M to date. We are all encouraged by this given the GFC and that the Australian Government chose not to increase overseas aid in the recent budget as they had promised to do.

Today I bought a coffee for $3.50… just a coffee. And then I think that the Jacobs managed to live on only $2 for a day for a whole week… and that was by choice! The most shocking thing is that there are over a billion people in this world today who, not by choice, actually live on or even under $2 a day. Live Below the Line is one program that is doing awesome work in not only raising money for, but from what we learn from the Jacobs experience, raising great awareness about those in need – in particular the Aussie program focuses on our neighbour PNG.

Live Below the Line is a great program that’s making a big difference in this world today. The Jacobs did a great job this year in raising awareness and funds – you can still support them, or just give to the LBL program. But it’s not all about the money… it’s as much about raising awareness and spreading the word about poverty – so I encourage you to get involved in some way or find out more about Live Below the Line, and start taking some action to help those in great need.

What’s it like to ‘Live Below the Line’? Those who’ve taken the challenge got a small insight into what it may be like – but I think they would also agree that we really have NO IDEA what it is like to actually live under the poverty line every single day, with no easy way out…



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