First she stopped heating her apartment, putting furniture in front of the radiators to try to forget they were there. She unscrewed most of the light bulbs, turned off the hot water, and sold her iPhone, her watch, her television and even her curtains to feed herself and her 2-year-old son.
Then she wrote about it in a blog post titled “Hunger Hurts” that soon spread widely. “Poverty is the sinking feeling when your small boy finishes his one Weetabix and says, ‘More, Mummy, bread and jam please, Mummy,’” she wrote, “as you’re wondering whether to take the TV or the guitar to the pawnshop first, and how to tell him that there is no bread or jam”.
Jack Monroe (25), a single mother who changed her name from Melissa because “I’m just not a Melissa,” is an unlikely ambassador for the growing ranks of Britain’s poor — and now one with a $40,000 book contract. Her sudden slide into poverty two years ago and her plucky online diary, A Girl Called Jack, chronicling the reality of life on the bread line have turned her into a celebrity in Britain. She is now courted by politicians, charities and even supermarket chains, and people regularly ask for her autograph.
Ms. Monroe, who left school at 16, has more than 31,000 followers on Twitter and now writes a weekly food column for the newspaper The Guardian, featuring recipes costing less than £1 ($1.64) a person. Her austerity cookbook is due out in February.
There is no simple tale here about a broken home, bad schools, drugs or racial prejudice, no familiarity in her path into poverty. As one of her neighbours in this seaside town in southern England put it, “She could be anybody’s daughter.”
Her story has made her a popular pawn in the debate about the future of the welfare state, which the government of Prime Minister David Cameron, a Conservative, has been trying to slim down.
Since coming to power in 2010, Mr. Cameron has overseen nearly $100 billion in welfare and spending cuts, with more in the pipeline. Charities like the Trussell Trust, which runs 400 food banks, say half a million people relied on food aid in the final eight months of last year, three times as many as in 2012.
The Guardian called Monroe “the face of modern poverty,” proof that in post-financial crisis Britain, neither the job market, which is sluggish, nor the benefit system, which is shrinking, can be relied upon to maintain a basic living standard.
The opposition Labour Party was quick to recruit her for a campaign against high energy prices. The charity Oxfam just took her to Tanzania to visit one of their projects, and the supermarket chain Sainsbury’s picked her for a television piece on how to cook with Christmas leftovers.
Ms. Monroe, who dropped out from school when she was 16, worked in shops and restaurants until she got a job as an emergency dispatcher, where she eventually made $44,000 a year, just over the average income in Britain. But in November 2011, she suddenly found herself out of a job. In the months that followed, Ms. Monroe fell into a spiral of mounting debt and growing panic. Bills piled up.
As she settles into her new apartment, still modest but with a decent-size kitchen, her priority is to make her son forget their hungry spell. — New York Times News Service