‘My Sunday roast was beans on toast’ TOBY WALNE tried to live on £179 pension and could barely survive a WEEK

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  • Those surviving on the basic state pension face an even more difficult future after the government broke the ‘triple lock’ pledge to protect them from rising costs.
  • Pensioners retiring after April 2016 only get £179.60 per week
  • Earlier retirees receive £137.60, plus a second state pension top-up
  • Payment can be made up to £177.10 a week if you claim the pension credit

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Those surviving on the basic state pension face an even more difficult future after the government broke the ‘triple lock’ pledge to protect them from the rising cost of living.

Those retiring after April 2016 only get £179.60 per week, while pensioners born before April 1945 get a staggering £137.60 – topping out at £177.10 if they claim the pension credit.


Last week, I decided to experience what it’s like to live in such a short time. Although it was only an experiment, I found it inconvenient.

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Sunday Lunch: Toby Walne decides to experience what it was like to live with such a meager amount of basic state pension


Waking up early with a sense of foreboding, I have no desire to get out of my bed. With the prospect of surviving on just £25 a day for the coming week, more time under the duvet seems like a good idea.

But I get distracted by the sound of letters hitting the doormat. Usually, I get down to see what the postman has brought. But not today – it could be bills I am unable to pay.

Sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of tea, I do some envelope calculations.

For the purposes of this financial experiment, I pretend I’m living alone in a modest house – although thankfully the mortgage has been paid off. I’m paying £20 a week for electricity and gas, although with prices going up 12 per cent this autumn it may soon be a choice between turning on the heating or having a hot meal.

Then there is £10 for water rates, £14 for council tax and £13 for a combination of internet access, insurance and a TV licence.

A third of my weekly pension – £57 – has been used up and I have yet to walk out the front door. My original £179.60 has already shrunk to £122.60.


Usually I shop at Waitrose, but not today. I’m at Aldi with a budget of £50 – the same value of unused food that the average family throws away each month.

I have enough bread, tea, milk, butter, fruits, vegetables, baked beans, potatoes, pork sausage and chicken to buy for the week without too much difficulty.

But there is no room for any luxuries – such as the ‘must-have’ things on offer in the central aisle of the shop: a £50 cordless chainsaw, for example. I push my trolley to the checkout, avoiding my usual sins; Craft beer, wine and gin.

Usually I can blow £50 on wine alone while shopping. It also requires an iron will, not being seduced by tempting extras—cheese, cured meats, crisps, biscuits, stone-baked bread, chocolate, and coffee beans.

It all sounds good, but I know I can’t live like this any longer than my experimental week. Only £72.60 left.


I’m in a bad mood. The novelty of living like many pensioners has worn off. I yearn to jump in my convertible car and enjoy the feeling of your hair in the air of motoring freedom. But driving a car entirely dependent on the state pension would be a non-starter.

Steve Webb answers your pension questions

With unleaded petrol now £1.35 a litre, the average price of a used car £14,000, and adding another £500 a year to insurance, taxes and running costs, the math doesn’t stack up.

I get sweaty at the thought of being without wheels in old age. I walk a quarter of a mile from my Hertfordshire home to the nearest bus stop so that I can travel to Bishop’s in Stortford.

The five-mile bus ride takes half an hour and will be free for a pensioner with a bus pass. But there is a catch. There are only three number 20 buses a day and I have to wait two hours for the next one. I Lost Trud Back Home.

The only downside is that I haven’t spent a single penny for the whole day.


Where normally I used to murmur silently about how charitable shops get cluttered on the high street, now I’m happy to rummage through their racks of clothing.

I am pleasantly surprised by both the quality and the price – I buy some shirts, jumpers and jackets for £30 to prepare for the winter ahead. I am quite happy with my purchase, but spoil my spot of bargain hunting by spending another £10 on a record and two books at St. Clair Hospice Music & Bookshop. It seems like a real treat.

I redeem myself by canceling a hairdresser’s appointment (which would cost £15) and do a rather bad job of cutting my hair with a razor.

I also walk to Bishop’s Stortford Food Bank in the center of town. Inside the church hall, volunteers are enthusiastically filling boxes with donations from supermarkets – biscuits, cereal, beans, tinned fish, pasta, canned fruit, tea, coffee and toiletries.

The Food Bank helps those who are most in need – people living on universal credit, the unemployed as well as those struggling on basic state pensions. Still many old…


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