Thursday, 9 June 2011

Poor kids

I told you last week how I loved a documentary. I’d been watching Made in Chelsea and it had upset me.

On Tuesday night I watched another documentary. This one actually upset me.

Poor Kids, on BBC 1 was a gut wrenching documentary about children living below the poverty line in the UK. I felt ashamed that I had ever moaned about having to suffer a camping holiday or cancel my glossy mag subscription.

The kids featured, 11-year-old Sam and his 16-year-old sister Kayleigh in Leicester, eight-year-old Courtney in Bradford, 10-year-old Paige in Glasgow – speak for themselves, but also for the 3.5 million other children living in poverty in Britain. And boy did they speak well. Honest, eloquent, strong, and mature beyond their years.

So much of it was unbearable: Sam being called a big girl's blouse for wearing his older sister's hand-me-down shirt to school, Courtney's resignation that she will always be poor, or saying her family doesn't go on holiday because they can't get on a plane because they're afraid of heights.

This is so different to the world I inhabited as a child – which by no extent was what  you might call 'privileged', but was filled with things like summer holidays to Wales, tap lessons, Brownies and birthday parties.
There was a moment in the film where Sam, on his 12th birthday was being given a cake and sung happy birthday by his small family, and the electricity went off in the house.
Whatever people want to say about their parents, if there really are children who don’t have a meal in the summer holidays because they are not getting their free school lunch, we really have a problem.
How can these children have a realistic expectation that they will ever amount to anything when they are surrounded by news of job cuts and an estate full of the unemployed?

I don’t know the answers but I know that so much of it is a disgrace – the mould in Paige's flat that means she can’t sleep on her top bunk, the fact that Courtney's mum can't afford the bus fare to take her swimming, or that Sam sometimes ‘saves up’ his hunger for when his dad can provide a meal.

These kids are bright. At the end of the programme Courtney comments "I don't want to grow up."  Heartbreakingly it's due to her fear of what's to come, not so she can stay forever young in a magical Neverland.

These children could go onto great things given the right chances. So the right chances must be given.

If you didn’t see the programme, you can watch it on catch up here


  1. Great post, shocking images. Haven't seen the program but could get a really strong impression of it from your writing. I think it is brilliant that BBC1 aired the documentary...I think it's easy to forget that extreme poverty exists in our backyards as well as in third world countries. At the end, what 'right chances' are you thinking of?

  2. Thanks Kat.

    At the most basic level they need decent meals. Without this how can they have the energy and concentration to succeed at school and get the education they will certainly need.

    Positive role models are a must. All they see at present is poverty and unemployment. I feel their eyes needed opening to a world outside the estates they felt so trapped in.

    I am not sure of the answers, but this documentary was so powerful that I am certain many people will be moved to lobby mps and bring this issue to the forefront of current politics.