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A Man Movingly Spoke Live On Radio About What It's Like To Be Too Poor To Eat In The UK

"You walk to to the cupboard 50 times a day and there's nothing there and it doesn't change."

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LBC digital radio station host James O'Brien received a phone call today from a listener who wanted to talk about benefits and food banks in the UK.

Mike, a 35-year old from New Cross, London, said he had lost his job through redundancy; the pressure this put on his relationship had caused his marriage to break apart, he claimed, and his situation had worsened very quickly.

And I ended up... I live in a tiny room, and what you get covers just what you need, and you have to go to food banks, and sometimes I'm living off a tin of spaghetti a day, or a tin of beans, and there are people out there who really are struggling, and it's not fun.

He was audibly distressed throughout the entire phone call, but wanted to get his message across.

...for these people to sit there to say, "Oh, go and get a job" – I'm out there every day, looking and searching, and you know you're trying to do it on your own, but you can't, and it gets harder and harder... [breaks up] I'm sorry.

He described the reality of day-to-day life for someone living below the poverty line.

It's really tough out there, and the government don't help you, they don't help you at all, and they make it as hard as possible, and you sit there, and you don't know what you're going to do, and you don't know what you're going to eat, and you walk to to the cupboard 50 times a day and there's nothing there and it doesn't change.

O'Brien said many people would be queuing up to suggest that Mike must be in his situation because he's made foolish decisions.

Mike replied:

Well, you know, when you start off with nothing, and when you're getting nothing... You can't do anything with nothing.

He said he had tried to live his life according to the rules:

I made no mistakes with my life, I've tried to do everything right as they tell you to. With the redundancy, and the pressure that was put on our marriage and everything else... When you once had a job and you're sitting there and you're out every day, and you're looking, and you have just enough money to buy a dinner, and you're trying to get by. Sometimes I can't eat, I don't eat.

When O'Brien mentioned that many people think the UK's benefits system is adequate, Mike's reply was forceful.

It's not [adequate], it's nowhere near. I haven't got a telly, I've got a tiny little radio and that's all I've got. And to buy batteries for that is an extravagance for me, and these people think we're out there just taking and taking, and no we're not, and some of us are proud, some of us are proud and trying to get by, but sometimes you have to go to a food bank. You have to, you don't have any choice.

He explained how he had been forced to scavenge through supermarket bins and said he wasn't proud of it but that he had to do it.

You've got these people in the papers who are spending £1,500 pounds on benefits, it must be... The story has to be made up. It's so fantastic it has to be made up.

Mike said he struggled to understand the UK's attitude towards poverty.

He said he was baffled by how the UK spends millions to phone into the X Factor to vote through their favourite contestants, but there are people starving in their own country.

When asked what he was doing for Christmas, he replied:

I'm doing nothing. There is no... I can't do nothing for Christmas. I'll just shut the door and listen to the radio. That'll be my Christmas, I don't have anyone. That's just the way it is. I'm sorry, I can't.

By this stage of the interview, O'Brien was moved by his story, and said he wished he could give him a hug.

I don't need a hug, I just need people to understand. It's not as easy as they think it is. It's not, it's not. It's so hard out there, people have no idea. Look, I'm a 35-year-old man, bawling my eyes out on a call-in show, desperate for people to know what it's like.

O'Brien then asked if he could give him a little money, but Mike was adamant:

Absolutely not. I will not take charity.

BuzzFeed News has reached out to Mike for more information.

Food poverty in the UK is on the rise; the number of people using food banks more than doubled from almost 350,000 in 2012/13, to over 900,000 in 2013/14. To donate to the Trussell Trust, click here.

Contact Jo Barrow at

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