Care leavers' week 2018 challenge

To mark Care Leavers' Week 2018, Sally Clewes and Celena Rossano from our Care Leavers team, together with Director of Children, Families and Communities, Catherine Driscoll, have accepted the challenge to live on an average Care Leavers' weekly income of £30.64.

The challenge looks to highlight the difficulties faced by care leavers' as they transition into adult life, and to encourage employers to consider care leavers when recruiting for new positions.

Before the challenge started, we caught up with Sally and Celena to find out why they're doing it, and the impact it will have on their normal life.

Listen to Sally and Selena

Catherine Driscoll's Blog


I am joining in the Care Leavers' Challenge for a working week to live off £30.64 (not including housing and utilities costs). This will be a challenge and I have been planning how to budget and what I will have to give up. I have decided that I can't afford coffee as well as tea and will definitely have to go without sparkling mineral water (the only soft drink that I have). But that will have the side benefit of reducing my plastic use so all good. I don't drink alcohol on a school night already so I will be ok with no wine. Biggest problem is that I haven’t enough in the budget to feed my two cats so I have told my husband he has to buy their food for the week. He's not happy as he really isn’t that keen on the cats but he does want to support me in this challenge.

Shopping Sunday 28 October

I asked my sons which supermarket was cheaper Aldi or Lidl, but they couldn’t decide. So I went to Lidl and bought food that I thought I could manage to live on for the week. I spent £13.03.

Realised that although I had bought shower gel and shampoo I hadn’t bought toilet roll, anti perspirant or toothpaste so went to Tesco for those.  Another £3.75 gone!

Care leavers challenge an image of the shopping Catherine brought


I have been looking at the rules and see that I have to take £3.33 for my phone. I have also thought long and hard about my gym. Over the last six months I have been going to the gym five times a week and following the 5:2 diet. As a result I have lost a stone and a half in weight and feel much fitter. I don't want to break the routine so I am going to include the gym cost in the budget. I have a monthly membership that costs £24.88 (I have a 'friends and family' reduction through a friend who works there). So £24.88 divided by 31 and multiplied by 5 equals £4.01. To compensate I am not going to use any data on my phone so won't need to cover the £2 for that.

So far I have spent £24.12 and haven’t even started!

Day 1 Monday 29 October

This is a 'two day' diet day. The five two diet is an intermittent fasting diet which means for two days a week I eat 500 to 600 calories and then eat normally for the other five.  

So breakfast is wholemeal toast with butter and tea and lunch is a banana and tea.  During the afternoon I was in a three hour meeting and during a break a colleague Andrew Spice asked if he could buy anyone a drink. After lots of hesitation I said yes please to a coffee. During a normal day at work I will buy one or two coffees from the café but can't manage that within the budget  so Andrew's generosity was most welcome!

Dinner is a chicken breast, carrots and green beans (although I saved part of the chicken for Tuesday's lunch) with water.  I have filled some bottles with tap water and stored in the fridge and I am not really missing the sparkling water that I normally have easier to give up than the coffee!

Care leavers challenge an image of the food Catherine ate on day 1


After work I go to the gym and have an hour's workout, followed by a sauna and shower. I use the shower gel and shampoo I bought at Lidl but I couldn’t afford conditioner as well so my hair does not feel the same as normal. The gym is a mile from home so I need to add 90p to my spend to cover 45p per mile for petrol.  Running total now £25.02.

At home I watched Only Connect and University Challenge. I love a good quiz!  Normally I would have watched Manchester City v Spurs on Sky but subscription TV is not allowed.

Day 2 Tuesday 30 October

Breakfast is porridge made with a mix of milk and water in order to make sure the milk lasts the week and a banana.

I make a sandwich to take to work for lunch wholemeal bread, butter, some of last night's chicken breast, tomatoes, red pepper and grated carrot. I would normally put mayonnaise on a sandwich but did not buy this so thought the carrot would add something I was right, it was delicious!

For dinner I dry fry bacon, add red pepper, canned tomatoes and fresh tomatoes and mix in the boiled penne pasta.  There is enough for two meals here. I was a bit worried that this might taste bland as I had not been able to add any herbs, seasoning or stock but actually it tastes fine.

After dinner I think I will do some washing, but realise I haven't bought any washing powder! So vacuum the house instead.  

Thinking about lunch tomorrow I decide to make some soup. I boil carrots, tomatoes, red pepper and a few green beans in water then blend. This does taste bland!

Care leavers challenge an image of the food Catherine ate on day 2

Day 3 Wednesday 31 October

So Halloween today – and I realise I am not able to buy 'treats' for the children in my street who normally knock on my door. My husband is away with work so I can't even ask him to do this. So I plan to go to the gym straight from work so I'm not in when the visitors come round. This is a tough realisation of the impact a tight budget has – it's hard to be spontaneous.

Breakfast is porridge with milk and water and banana again – it is lovely!

Care leavers challenge an image of the breakfast Catherine ate on day 3.

I had no coffee yesterday and really missed the caffeine.  Pauline Austin, a lovely colleague brought me a skinny latte and cake to take into our leadership team meeting.  We reflected on how generous our colleagues are and wondered whether people were as generous with care leavers.

Today was the Corporate Parenting Fair and it was great to see so many people from Who Cares We Care, Speak Out and staff showcasing a range of services designed to support children in care and care leavers. The Fair was the idea of Councillor Tom Baker-Price who was the original sponsor for exempting Care Leavers from Council Tax. This was a practical way of Worcestershire's Councils meeting their corporate parenting responsibilities and assisting to relieve some of the financial pressure.

Care leavers' challenge day 3 Corporate Parenting Fair

For lunch I ate the soup I made last night with two slices of bread, really quite tasteless!

I went straight from work to the gym (avoiding trick or treaters!) and home to reheat yesterday's pasta. I add 90p to my spend to cover the round trip to the gym of 2 miles. I have spent £25.92 so far. I am missing my daily newspaper, this was one of the items I decided to drop to manage within my budget. 

Care leavers challenge an image of the lunch and dinner Catherine ate on day 3


Day 4 Thursday 1 November

This is another '2 day' – so target is 500-600 calories today. Breakfast is toast and tea.  

I have a meeting in Solihull Civic Centre during the morning – this is tough as I park in the Touchwood shopping centre so walk past lots of shops on my way to and from the meeting. Temptation to buy coffee is strong but resisted! I eat my banana when I reach my car. In the afternoon I am in a hospital and again coffee and cakes on display. This budget doesn’t leave room for spontaneous spending, which is the hardest thing this week. Planning the budget, food and gym has been fine, but not being able to buy things as they present themselves is much harder.

I go to the gym after work again for another hour's workout and a great sauna and shower. 90p for petrol to add to the budget means I have now spent £26.82 – I am excited as I think I will be able to buy a coffee tomorrow (although I am not entirely sure what I am having for lunch)!

For dinner I have a variation on a Jamie Oliver recipe. My version is chicken breast, bacon, baked tomatoes, carrots and green beans which does taste good. The original version has olive oil, smoked paprika, thyme, fresh lemon and potatoes as well – but I am very hungry so enjoy this variation.

Care leavers challenge an image of the breakfast and diner Catherine ate on day 4

Day 5 Friday 2 November

So my last day of the budget is very thought provoking. It has been tough but manageable – but of course I have only done this for five days. Doing this over the weekend would be much harder – particularly as my sons are coming home to celebrate my birthday. Being at work has made it easier – my job is very busy so I don’t have much time to think about spending money as my time is filled with juggling and keeping on top of my priorities. I have missed my coffees from the canteen – and have realised how much I rely on the caffeine hit first thing in the morning to kick start the day. I am really not a morning person!

Porridge and banana again for breakfast – and have used the last of my milk so black tea for the rest of the day unless I buy more with the £3.82 left in my budget.

After a morning of meetings, report writing and answering emails, I decide to venture into the County Hall café. I haven’t brought anything into work for lunch (and ate the last of my bananas this morning). So I really like the look of the Friday fish and chips – but at £5 I can't afford them unfortunately. But jacket potato is reasonably good value – so I have jacket with tuna and a bit of salad for a cost of £2.20. My spend for the week now stands at £29.02.

Care leavers challenge an image of the breakfast and lunch Catherine ate on day 5

My final meal of the week tonight will be a bacon and tomato sandwich on wholemeal bread. I will then have used almost all of the fresh food I bought on Sunday – there are a couple of slices of bread, butter, carrots and green beans left as well as some pasta, porridge and tea bags.

The hardest things have been not being able to buy things without thinking about them – I like to be able to buy a coffee for a colleague or buy treats for Halloween visitors. I have learnt lots about myself as well – I knew I would be able to live on a small budget as I did it when I was young and living in London. I often had my phone cut off as I couldn’t afford the bill and having money for the electric meter was important so I could have a hot bath, which was very important for me. But it is a very long time since I have been in that position and I take those things for granted now. I really don't enjoy being restricted on my spending and have found this harder than I thought I would. This week reminded me how being broke really motivated me to work hard to earn more money and made me think about the people who really gave me a chance and supported me over my career – I really couldn’t have done it without them. So I feel grateful for the fantastic job that I have – I am lucky to be well paid to do work that I love. And I am more determined than ever to make sure that we are all as corporate parents doing everything that we can to support care leavers to find the jobs that they will enjoy and that will provide that freedom from financial worry that I now have.