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TV Review: Poor Kids (BBC1)

Angie Sammons on an essential, important film shown way too late to have the impact it should

Written by . Published on June 9th 2011.

TV Review: Poor Kids (BBC1)

IT is no secret that the brightest children born into the poorest families are now overtaken in test scores by well heeled thickies. So it was with a heavy heart that one sat down to watch Poor Kids (BBC1 Tuesday). 

The only thing possibly wrong with Jezza Neumann's important hour-long film is that it started way past anyone's week-night bedtime and finished at midnight. 

Their integrity, their acceptance of
their lot, and their complete trust and
faith in their well meaning but
disenfranchised parents, was humbling

Poor Kids was a piece of television as hard-hitting, depressing and essential as the BBC deems its four-night-a-week ratings-buster, EastEnders, to be on the nation's psyche.

Sam.jpgSo wouldn't it have been good if they had dared to give it a similar slot in the schedules? Stuck it on like Springwatch for a week. Half an hour every night, at prime time, outraging and diffusing the prejudices of Little England; irritating politicians, again and again, like the itching eczema scabs on the legs of one those very poor kids, eight-year-old Courtney.

Because told out of the mouths of babes, Poor Kids delivered a punch a thousandfold harder to the gut of a largely smug society than any soap opera, any adult narrator, or even Pudsey Bear ever could.

Four children: Courtney, Paige (10), Sam (11),and his sister Kayleigh (16,) talked with with wisdom beyond their years, as they sought to explain their meagre, harsh lives growing up among 3.5 million children below the poverty line in Britain today.

Their integrity, their acceptance of their lot, and their complete trust and faith in their well meaning but disenfranchised parents, was humbling.

Gas and electricity running on key meters that regularly run out, plunging Spartan homes into cold and darkness; black spores of mould inching across tiny Gorbals beds and into wheezing small chests in the night; no spare change for the swimming baths in the summer, or for bus fares anytime, anywhere.

Christmas stockings as empty as the sun-scorched, school-less days of August. The idea of a family holiday a complete mystery; nothing to do and nowhere to play except dark, derelict, dangerous buildings. Skipping meals and skipping on the ice when winter comes howling in.

Sam (above, right), whose mother walked out on the family on his second birthday, is bullied because he has to wear his sister's hand-me-downs for school. His genial dad, dignity stripped away through lack of work, keeps them all, including another man's child, on £80 a week. He googles “job+Leicester” on the hired slot TV (£1 gets you six hours) and the search result comes up with nothing. One sparkler each is the best he can do for these kids on Bonfire Night, and Christmas, well, you can imagine.

Paige in Glasgow (main picture), meanwhile, is so sensible and insightful she could almost have presented the whole documentary. She would be a a dead ringer for her mum but for the fact that the latter, only her mid-thirties, has already lost all of her teeth.

Paige wears a big flower in her hair, the only colour in her drab, high-rise world. There was some green, an artificial football pitch 10 floors below, but that has been destroyed by vandals. Matter-of-factly, she tells the camera how she found a big bunch of hypodermic needles when she was out playing. “It's not very nice to see that sort of thing at our age, I'm only 10.”

Courtney.jpgBradford lass Courtney (right), meanwhile, relieves her chronic skin condition by scratching and scratching until her skin bleeds because “it makes me feel calmer,” and 16-year-old Kayleigh has already tried to end it all (one in six poor children has considered suicide) because “when you are poor you are marked for life”.

The real shock of Poor Kids was not the discovery that every UK child isn't fitted with a Nintendo DS Lite as standard, but that after three successive Labour governments who pledged to end this very thing, we seem no further forward. Worse, claims the film in a series of grim statistics etched into walls and doors (party political broadcast style, some might accuse): child poverty under current policies is set to rise 11 per cent in the next three years. 

Never shedding a tear, never sorry for herself, “I don't want to grow up,” Courtney said at the end of the film. She had analysed her lot perfectly: Kids in the UK have the lowest chance of escaping poverty of 12 rich countries studied.

Somebody said we need more documentaries like Poor Kids. In a perfect world, or simply in a more equal world, we would need none.

*Follow Angie Sammons on Twitter @twangeee

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12 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Angie Sammons shared this on Facebook on June 9th 2011.
AnthonyJune 9th 2011.

I remember my dad collecting lemonade bottles for the 5p money back on them during one of the many fords strikes, the programme reduced me to a blubbering wreck. The main difference that stood out from my childhood was that at least I always felt that life would be better in the future, I knew we were skint, but believed that wouldn't always be that way. Watching the programme I came away thinking those kids feel that they have no future. So many governments have taken it away from them. Very sad.

1 Response: Reply To This...
jennifer1234June 11th 2011.

My dad worked for Fords back in the 80s. He took voluntary redundancy in 1991, when I was 12, and started driving special needs kids to school with the councils. I 100% relate! He hated Fords and instilled in me the drive to gain enjoyable, fulfilling employment. Just shows the difference when low income kids have hope in their lives - never underestimate the power of psychology, it governs who and what we are. We were lucky to come from families that weren't as emotionally and spiritually downtrodden as these poor souls are. Dignity, positivity/encouragement and room to aspire is what they need, not more benefit cuts and prejudice xx

NinaJune 9th 2011.

Really depressing that they didn't seem to have any optimism for the future, even at that age. I also thought that it would be excused as BBC leftie bias, but it shouldn't be. That is life for too many kids in the UK today and there's no need for it - there's enough money in this country we just need to redistribute it better and invest in education so these kids do have a chance to escape poverty.

1 Response: Reply To This...
jennifer1234June 11th 2011.

Writing this sort of thing off as 'Leftie Bias' is how the 'I'm alright Jacks' justify it to themselves or most wouldn't sleep at night! Shocking how many of the general population have this attitude as well. I can't stand it when I see that kind of label being applied to the sort of thing that can change the world. This documentary, shown as Angie suggests, could completely change things for the better, reaching the hearts of people, but there are too many at the top benefiting from the status quo for this to happen any time soon. They're so stupid, they can't see that a more compassionate system would benefit them as well! Don't worry though, I believe in karma. They have to die sometime. I suspect it'll be vey hot where they're going, and it aint St Tropez! :P xx

AnthonyJune 9th 2011.

I think any attack on the beeb for being left wing biased in this matter could be countered by pointing out that most of the kids involved were in exactly the same situation when Brown and Blair were at the helm!

AnonymousJune 9th 2011.

It sickens me to the stomach to think of bankers getting bonuses while the children of this country have no hope.

The politicos across all parties have been and are so up the arses of these filthy fat cats that they daren't even ask the likes of the Royal Bank of Scotland (which WE, the tax payer own, remember) for a clear statement off their intentions and affairs.

How can these WRONGED children have any hope for the future when they are denied the basic right of a decent education? They can never climb out of poverty because the route to university has been shut off to all but the middle class and above. They cannot go to school because they are living in squalid damp flats or are bullied for being a povvo.

Shame on you Britannia.

Citizen EddyJune 9th 2011.

Sort of puts the important debates going on over at the Australasia review on Mancon into perspective doesnt it? In my opinion.

Dave TJune 10th 2011.

I found it really upsetting and sad. My problem with it is that it was almost filmed and presented in the style of a Party political Broadcast (the stats put on walls, etc). The people who have the power to make changes will accuse the Beeb of being left-wing for showing it. It should be essential viewing, but it'll generate the usual "Let them eat cake" comments from the Tories.

Alan HirdJune 10th 2011.

This government should leave the NHS stop trying to change it, and try help these poor kids instead.

jennifer1234June 11th 2011.

Super duper, excellent article Angie, powerfully written. Too many people in this country fail to understand that there is poverty on their own doorstep, and it's made more appalling by the fact that not only are we one of the richest countries in the world, our language is the worldwide lingua franca. Kids in the other countries HAVE to learn our language in order to get on in life, whether they like it or not. How much more bloody power could we have? And yet, THIS is happening! We have homeless people on our streets, kids living like this, people dying on hospital corridors because there are 'no beds available' students in tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt because they had the audacity to want HE, young adults not able to get on the property ladder because greedy governments allowed the house prices to rise artificically to make a quick buck for themselves and the estate agents/housing industry. Forget India, Africa, South America - look on your own street because these kids are eveyrwhere. It's just simply not middle class/bourgeois enough to support the poor of this country. There is a very bad attitude in this country towards our own poor who have been painted as benefit scroungers and low lives for too long. And the government are loving it by the way - their job is being done for them, makes it easier to bring in their draconian policies which punish these people more. Is this the sort of example of a developed country that the likes of Africa and India would want to aspire to? Even if certain people ARE scroungers we have to ask OURSELVES why! They did not develop this attitude in a vacuum - this is a result of generation upon generation living in a sociopath led society where the human spirit, human dignity does not matter. Emotion means nothing. Only money does. And if you do not worship money,you are cast upon the scrapheap as a 'scrounger' I suggest that the reaction of scroungers is more healthy than the rest of us - they are reacting wtih justified aggression to a system that has aggressed against them, and does not support them. Why should they contribute when all they can see is negativity, and a very badly run unequal system? I know this is how they think, coming from a low income background myself, I've been around enough of these people in the area I grew up in. And I can't say I blame them - its a question of pride for them. A different type of pride. Perhaps if more of us reacted like the average scrounger, instead of obediently towing the line, the government would be forced to take notice, and we would all be better off! Other benefit recipients labelled scroungers like drug and alcohol addicts may have been abused in their life, and substance addiction is the only way they know how to cope. We dont know what people have been through, what combination of upbringing/genetic and environmental factors have caused them to be who they are today. There but for the grace of God go any of us, and if you a homeless person on the street asks you for change or to buy a BIg Issue today, give them a smile and the time of day even if you have nothing to give. Could be the difference between that person giving up on a constructive existence altogether and clinging onto that last scrap of human dignity. We're all in this together, scrounger and millionaire alike. Thank you for reading my extremely long posting lol, those of you who had the patience to get to the end! I feel very passionately about this! I'm a socialist, and am proud to say so, there is no shame in that word, only love, compassion and common sense! Cheers xx

1 Response: Reply To This...
Angie SammonsNovember 7th 2011.

Thanks Jennifer

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