Live on £53 per week? Try that on a student loan, Iain...

Iain Duncan Smith has been lambasted for suggesting it's possible to live in £53 per week. If he wants a real challenge, suggests Alex Jackson, he should try surviving on just a student loan

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The Independent Online

In a couple of weeks, we students will be able to stop the thrifty spending and strict budgeting.

At last, the next instalment of our student loans has lined our pockets and topped up our bank accounts with endless fresh amounts of virtual money. As soon as the ominous ‘OD’ disappears from your cashpoint display, a world of leisure opportunities awaits: the doors of Jack Wills and Hollister are all the more appealing, the offers on Jagerbombs at Vodka Revolution instantly appear to be incredibly good value, and funds for a drunken sports tour, brimming with banter, are at last secured.

Budgeting is something that students easily endure without fear, their next loan a glimmering promise of free money: £1,581 per week on average.

Excuse me, I mean to say per term.

A pittance

My termly allowance, which has to last me four months, roughly equates to the amount Iain Duncan Smith pockets in a week on his ministerial salary, meaning that my budget is just shy of £100 a week, or around £14 a day, which is difficult enough at double what Duncan Smith boasts he can manage on.

When the money first floods in most excitable youngsters can be seen running off to pay that overdue library fine, stocking up on teabags that aren’t a budget brand and generally gallivanting around the town centre half-daring to dream of affording those second-hand clothes hidden at the very back of the charity store. Or hell, actually having that haircut.

Soon enough, however, the flush oasis becomes a dried-up puddle, leaving university goers moored in the middle of a desert. Perilous mountains of books need be bought on that dwindling budget, food has to be factored into the equation, and funds even need to stretch to clothes.

I’d say that I am reasonably tight with money whilst food shopping, yet I’ll spend an average of £30 a week replenishing the food cupboard, and taking stock of what I can eat and when to get by.

Then there are bills to cover. Internet, gas, electric, water, TV. The economy of a large student house means these come to just £10 for seven days usage, but it is still a significant 20 per cent of what Duncan Smith believes is a plausible sum to live on.

Then, put on a taxi to town and back along with two drinks, and your £53 budget is blown. That hardly supports the leisure time for which students are renowned.

Subsistence living

As a student, it's harder and harder to stay afloat. You’re alive, but you’re not living. In the turmoil of the economic climate, the thrifty student is learning a valuable life skill; perfecting their ability to shop wisely and live within their means, perhaps the most useful life-skill.

Bids to appear upwardly mobile alongside university, such as being involved in sports clubs to boost your profile, purchasing suits for interviews, and having just a mid-range phone, mean that the burden is impressive to behold. These items are no longer luxuries, but necessities.

Students are navigating a minefield of potential outlays in order to better themselves. I have just undertaken two weeks of work experience to the detriment of my bank account. Travel to and around the capital close to the £150-mark alone. We're learning that a degree is not enough of testament to our dedication. You have to speculate to accumulate, and students shell out far in excess of the ‘liveable’ £53 a week to make themselves stand out.

And of course, there's the rent. I pay £68 a week in rent (which is an extremely reasonable sum), blowing the welfare minister’s entire budget instantly. My personal weekly allowance rests at £30 after rent, just enough for food and not a lot else.

Perhaps Duncan Smith’s declaration was all an ill-judged April Fool’s Day joke. But, then again, if I could file my alcohol consumption under expenses, I suppose I could live on £53 a week too.

Alex Jackson is a third year English Literature undergraduate at York University. You can follow him on Twitter here