Poor Kids: A child's view of growing up in poverty

Tuesday 7 June 2011, 11:20

Jezza Neumann Jezza Neumann Director

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When I was asked to shoot and direct a film about poverty, I knew the team and I would be taking on a massive challenge.

As a society, we have stigmatised poverty to a point where nobody likes to admit they're poor.

By making Poor Kids through the eyes of the children, we could uncover a tough subject through a section of society who rarely gets their say.

But this brings its own issues and complexities as a duty of care towards the children is paramount.

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Before we even set about finding children, we drew up an extensive protocol on how we would operate with the children's best interests in mind.

I guess the true test of how well we succeeded was when the children watched the film and whether they saw it as an accurate representation of their lives, and they seemed to.

All too often in life children aren't given a voice or the chance to be heard. And all too often adults listen, but they don't really. I'm a dad, so I know, as I'm just as guilty.

Once we'd settled on which children to follow, it was a fascinating journey.

The most important part of the filming process was to gain a bond with the children. After a while children often open up to us because we are a grown-up figure who listens but never judges.

On some days we'd turn up and they didn't feel like filming - they just wanted to go to the park, so to the park we went.

Patience is a virtue, as I keep telling my kids, even if you have driven all the way from London on a tight schedule to move the film forward and you are desperate to turn the camera on.

This patience, though, can pay back in dividends.

One of my favourite scenes in the film is Courtney and Holly chatting on the bed - a scene I could only capture because they were so used to me being around that I was able to blend into the purple wallpaper. I am short though, so that probably helped.

There are times when you do question what you see.

Why doesn't Kayleigh, for example, get a part-time job after college?

Firstly, as Sam clearly tells us in the film, jobs are scarce. Secondly, if her dad is off job hunting in the afternoon, who's looking after Sam and Kaleb when they get home from school?

Sam and Kayleigh from the documentary Poor Kids

Sam and Kayleigh

The answer, of course, is Kayleigh.

Why, for example, does Fran have a dog when she struggles to feed the kids?

"For my family's security," she said. "Do you know what it's like living on an estate alongside drug addicts?"

No, I don't, thank God.

The kids used to have bikes but they were taken from the garden. She also recounts a story about strangers breaking into the house.

That's why, as a single mum with three vulnerable young girls, she has a dog. I was then embarrassed I'd asked the question.

I believe so many of the children we met while making the film could go on to great things in life, if given the right chances.

The trouble is we are not only a product of our family but also society as a whole. So, in areas of the country where services are straining and infrastructure crumbling, these chances are forever decreasing.

It's really difficult for children to have a realistic expectation that they will amount to something when they are surrounded by headlines of job cuts and an estate full of the unemployed.

Kids aren't stupid remember - they get it.

At the end of the film, just like Peter Pan, Courtney says, "I don't want to grow up."

Sadly for her it's due to the fear of what's to come, not so she can stay forever young in a magical Neverland.

UPDATE: Thank you for the overwhelming response. Thanks for your comments, thoughts and generosity. The number of your comments has set a record on the TV blog. If you want to help, our advice would be to get in touch with any of the charities expert in dealing with the issues highlighted in the film, as listed on our programme page - Sam Anthony, executive of Poor Kids for the BBC.

UPDATE 2: There's further information for anyone wanting to donate on True Vision's website (the makers of Poor Kids).

Jezza Neumann is the director of Poor Kids.

Poor Kids is being repeated on Wednesday, 27 July at 9pm on BBC Three.

It was first shown on BBC One and BBC One HD at 10.35pm on Tuesday, 7 June.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    When i read the children's stories it made me cry.
    Poverty is invisible in this country,we have a clear divide between those who "have" and those who"have not",and this divide is widening.
    As a society we "look down" on poor people and i think we view them as, in some way responsible for their own livelihoods,the anger towards benefit claimants is increasing as is the anger towards non-white skinned individials,particularly if they appear to have more than those around them or are claiming benefits.As jobs become more scarce the anger which is underlying grows.
    I myself have been bringing up 2 children as a single-parent on a low income,i will have the same income as those families portrayed in the programme,however,i do not appear to be poor,and do not fit the stereotypical poverty stricken victim,and do everything i can to give the kids a great upbringing on a tight budget.
    Poverty is relative,my family is poorer than other families around us.I am good at stretching money,i do not smoke,or go out drinking.We cannot afford holidays,but we are lucky enough to live on a beautiful island,and we cycle and swim,go on picnics,and have free days out in the holidays.I have always worked up to 20hrs a week,but have been dependent on benefit subsidees.
    I do think families have choices,but get into a" poverty trap".If you are poor you have to think on your feet,put the kids first,give up smoking,learn how to cook good food on a budget,buy most things 2nd hand,use some initiative.With little opportunities it is easy to become depressed and adopt a negative approach to life,that is the biggest crime to the children of poor families.There is absolutely no reason for a child to go without dinner,and if this is happening the parent needs education.
    There is nothing stopping these families moving to a better place,moving to where the work prospects are better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Is there any way in which some of us could kind of "adopt" a family to help. I for one would be quite happy to do that sort of thing, help the adults to perhaps get a job, help with getting a better life for the children - days out, holiday a year etc.?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    This is so different to the world my lucky children live in - filled with things like ballet lessons, brownies and birthday parties - fuelled by my husband and I who both have jobs. I'd like to help these children more directly. I do give our outgrown clothes and toys to charity and also donate money to the NSPCC each month. What else can we do to get help to the children that need it - if the Government aren't going to pull their finger out? If there really are children who can't afford to eat in the summer holidays because they are not getting their normal free school lunch, we really have a problem. Thanks to the film producers for highlighting the extent of this problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Contact the British Red Cross (http://www.redcross.org.uk/volunteerroles/?approachcode=81213_JuneEnews060611VolunRM) or any number of other charities to find out how you can help. More info available on the Poor Kids webpage: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b011vnls.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    sarah-jane post 1- I am with you. I too am 'poor'. I live a single parent on a large council estate in inner London. I work full time and do everything I can to give my child a good upbringing. We never go hungry, we do a wealth of entertaining and interesting things for free. I save and manage a weeks camping holiday a year and have every intention that my child will go to university. But also I see no end to my situation, I hate where I live and have no opportunity to move due to housing shortages, I will never earn enough to buy a home. I do feel blessed to live and been born in a country where none need starve or go without shelter. I also do look on in envy at those with houses or flats on leafy streets or people who have family to inherit money or property from. People judge you by where you live and now my child has started secondary school, they are now very aware of it.
    Yes there is poverty in this country, but poverty has changed. It's about the haves and the have nots more than ever.


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