Constituents have contacted me on email, Facebook, Twitter and by phone to tell me how they buy food on low incomes. One person said that they would buy a large frozen lasagna at the start of the week, carve it up and eat from that all week.
It was clear from my trip that the most cost efficient way to fill my stomach would be to buy big bags of rice and pasta rather than buy tasty, fresh vegetables. My own research on this has demonstrated that low income households are experiencing relatively high price rises in housing, food and utilities; prices that are not being adequately offset by the twice yearly rise in Newstart. This is because these increases are based on the Consumer Price Index, in which the rising cost of basic living is balanced out by decreasing costs of items such as furniture and holidays, components that do not feature in the low income earners budget. This is why I want Newstart to be properly indexed as well as increased.
The longer you're on Newstart, the harder it gets to maintain good nutrition. I was able to get cheap free-range eggs, but I also noticed when I started cooking that the super-cheap tin of beans was extremely salty and the tinned tomatoes seemed more watery than more expensive brands.
I'm interested to hear from you if you have figured out ways of getting cheaper food costs - most people including pollies just don't know what living on allowances means in real life. Post them on my Facebook page and join the conversation.
After budgeting out at the supermarket, I ended up spending $55.45 on food that will need to last me for the week, which left me with $15.30 in total. I also need to take iron tablets daily - so that's another $4.10 per week. Thankfully, I'm still able to draw down on the items in my pantry such as cling wrap and toothpaste, diswashing liquid and margarine. Over time, I would have to figure out how to stretch the grocery budget further, probably by skipping meals, or relying on a steady diet of noodles.
Daily expenditure: $59.54. Money left in my wallet: $11.25.
< Day 1: Rachel does her Newstart budget | Day 3: Rachel gets Ready To Work >
Increasing the allowance rate by $50 per week - $7 per day - would be an important start to make things a little easier for the hundreds of thousands of Australians relying on this assistance. You can follow my week on my Facebook page, and you can read more about this issue in our background paper.