Articles

A Letter to David and Boris

by .

Dear David & Boris

Ignore the braying, it doesn’t matter that you can’t answer trick questions about the price of milk and value bread. Families don’t buy milk by the pint and no one thinks you eat value bread or do the weekly shop.

What does matter is that you don’t know how it feels to manage on a tight household budget.  Which means that you don’t understand the day-to-day impact of tax and policy changes.  And Labour knows it.

You’ll read this (well, let’s be honest, probably not) and roll your eyes, because you have tonnes of data to inform you.  Crikey, as Boris would say, you have a whole Treasury to calculate the impact of tax and policy changes.  What more could you need?

The challenge is to truly understand how it feels to struggle with the weekly shop when your family doesn’t. To fill the gap between your intellectual knowledge and the lives of those for whom the price of milk and value bread is something they worry about.  Chatting about the best breadmaker (nice tip, Panasonic will be thrilled and I note Mumsnet recommended it this week too) is chilling because it suggests – nerves aside – that you don’t know what you don’t know.  You mirror the chasm between Jamie Oliver and his well-intentioned but somehow inauthentic Money Saving Meals (RRP £26) and A Girl Called Jack (www.agirlcalledjack.com).

But don’t worry, I have a solution.  At any time that suits, come and visit the Asda on the Isle of Dogs and go shopping with someone on a budget of, say, £60 a week for a family of five.  Admire the mental arithmetic of people you suspect aren’t quite as clever as you as they bury into the discount aisle and choose food, not on the basis of season, preference or air miles, but on how many mouths they can feed for the fewest pence. See the impact of washing powder, nappies and cleaning products on the food budget. Watch stuff getting swapped out as they progress through the store – giving up on a treat like own-brand squash for something more substantial. See how fast they are counting what they spend so that, by the till, they can cite exactly whether they are ahead or behind budget.  Don’t be surprised if they pay some by card and some by cash as they don’t have enough of either to cover the whole bill.

And then come back the next week and do the shop for them on their budget and see how you do.

Do it to inform your decisions not as a ‘man of the people’ PR exercise.  You can’t afford another pasty-tax style mistake: remember that the Poll Tax disaster was simply a misunderstanding of ordinary people and how they would respond.

But the next time a journalist does ask about prices, you may find you know more than they do. And, quite likely, more than Ed Miliband.

Christine


Sign up to be kept up to date

Subscribe