BBC documentary, ‘Poor Kids’ (BBC 1, Monday 6th June) explores just what it is to live in poverty in the UK. It claims that over 3.5 million children in the UK live ‘below the poverty line’ – almost a third of the total number of children under the age of 16 in the UK.
Having just run our own Live Below the Line campaign, we wanted to take a step back and look at the ways that poverty in the UK is portrayed in comparison to poverty overseas.
‘Poor Kids’ is a well produced and often un-nerving portrayal of the reality of life for some of the poorest and most marginalised communities in the UK – in Bradford, Glasgow and Leicester. It is a brave attempt to tackle a subject that is often treated with stigma – making it difficult and embarrassing for 16 year old Kayleigh or 8 year old Courtney to admit that they are ‘poor’.
Developed through a series of face to face interviews with children living in different parts of the UK, the perspective of poverty shown is one that is often neglected – presenting a surprising clarity with which the UK’s poorest children view subjects such as food inflation, debt and the decline in the job market. 11 year old Sam waves his hands in frustration as he accurately describes the drop in the number of available jobs and the increase in commodity prices as a vicious cycle. A cycle that has left his single dad struggling to find a job whilst losing benefits.
Sam with his older sister Kayleigh
When watching the programme, you can’t help to be distracted by a few well used clichés such as the sentimental piano intro or the stark contrast made by the disused playgrounds and warehouses where the children spend much of their time – but the facts behind the programme are clean cut and abrupt. With 5.5 million people claiming out of work benefit at the beginning of 2010 and the significant drop in benefits now offered to low income families, the UK target of dropping child poverty to less than 10% of children by 2020 is arguably distant.
8 year old Courtney tells us how the mould in her room is making her feel ill.
The effects of this on the children interviewed is clear – 8 year old Courtney discusses how cold the house gets without central heating in winter and how she is bullied for the damp mould smell that has spread from her window to her school uniform, a significant health risk that can cause numerous lung and throat infections. For 16 year old Kayleigh, the conditions in her family have caused her to consider suicide and perceive her own future as innately poor. In a recent study by UNICEF, the UK scored 18th out of 22 countries ranked highest for child poverty – beaten only by Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and Italy .
But there is another story – one which is much wider than the UK. The children filmed are fully clothed and have many luxuries that 1.4 billion people across the world do not; as Sam’s friend so pointedly observes half way through the film, “we will never actually starve”.
To watch ‘Poor Kids’ now on BBC iplayer, click here. (UK only)