How much is 50p worth to you?

Why I’m “living below the line”

Suppose we meet on the street one day and I tell you that, through no fault of my own, I’m having to live on just a pound a day for food and drink (I’d been robbed, say, or lost everything in a house fire). Would you buy me a sandwich, or invite me round for lunch? Would you give me just 50p, knowing this could greatly improve my day without really affecting your own at all? I’m pretty sure you would. I’m also pretty sure you’d feel good about it: rather than detracting from your day, this act of generosity would probably improve it.

When we’re explicitly faced with inequality, giving is surprisingly easy. It just makes sense: if you can help someone else at no or little cost to yourself, why wouldn’t you? By giving me 50p when I’m living on a pound a day, you allow me to buy that bit more food, make my meal that little bit more interesting, or have that extra cup of tea (personally, I’d probably opt for the latter.) Undoubtedly, I’ll appreciate that 50p much more than you would have.

What’s harder to appreciate is that there are opportunities to do this kind of thing all the time – we’re just not confronted with them as directly. But if you look a little further, you’ll find there are ways you can make a huge difference to someone else’s life with incredibly little effort.

Instead of giving me that 50p – hard as it may be, I can probably live without tea – you could give it to the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI), who would use it to give someone in the developing world a year of healthy life free from neglected tropical diseases. If you were feeling even more generous, you could give me £5 – doubling my weekly food allowance and so significantly improving my week – or you could give that same £5 to the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) who would use it to buy a mosquito net to protect someone against malaria. Much as I enjoy a nice cup of tea, the choice between improving my day slightly and massively improving someone else’s year (or even saving their life) is a complete no brainer.

Between the 29th of April and the 3rd of May, I and a number of other people from 80,000 Hours and Giving What We Can (as well as thousands of others around the world) will be “living below the line” – actually living on only a pound a day for all food and drink. We’re doing this to raise awareness and money for these charities that make it incredibly easy for us to make a huge difference. The Giving What We Can team have a tough act to follow: the team last year raised over half of the £20,363 generated for SCI by the campaign! But we’re well on our way, having already made it to second place on the leaderboard.

Admittedly we are doing this out of choice, but those who live below the poverty line in reality, live with a neglected tropical disease, or die from malaria, do so by force of circumstance. If you’d buy me something to eat, or give me 50p if I was doing this through no fault of my own, please instead make that donation to one of the charities we’re doing this to raise money for. Your donation will help to support people who suffer a great deal more than we will for a week living a little frugally, and not out of choice.

Donate here to my campaign or donate here to the Giving What We Can team.