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 21.

    It's very sad to watch - I want to help. How do people go about giving directly to these families featured. BBC can you help?

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    Comment number 22.

    I completely agree with the others who have commented on the time slot given to this film. It should be peak time viewing. This is a wake up call for me. I like to think I have some idea of what is going on around us all, I have taught in inner London state schools after all- but hearing these kids is shocking to the core. The contrast between the lives of these kids and my two young children is almost unbearable.

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    Comment number 23.

    I'm 18, and I've been fortunate to grow up in a wealthy family. After watching tonights programme, it's made me think twice about the things I have.

    What really annoys me is that some of these families are genuinely poor, and are not wasting money on drugs and drink...yet we can spend £10bn on the olympics in 2012. It's so typical how we win the games for 2012, then bam..recession hits and the government has to spend on staging the olympics when there are families who can just about scrape enough money together to eat. To be quite honest, no matter how bad this may sound to many of you, these games are just a disaster. Firstly, there was no real spending stategy..in 2006 the games were estimated to cost between £5bn and £20bn...hardly an "estimate". Secondly, poorer income families don't even have a chance of watching them live, simply because they cannot afford to buy tickets, and the chance of even getting tickets is tiny, as we've all seen. Thirdly, for all the excitement about the games, its suddenly turned into a horrible experience as people who thought they could go and see events, just can't.

    My view is, the bid for the olympics should not have happened considering there were several hints back in 2005 that a recession was lingering around the corner. Instead, for a more economically developed country, more government money should have been spent on means tested benefits (in many categories), such that families that really do need the money to live, get it. Being an MEDC holds the duty that people should receive a good standard of living, if it means a higher distribution of income then so be it! Poorer children should not be discounted, they are the generations to follow and should be given the chance to make something of themselves, instead of being held up in family finances and poor health and living standards.

    If there was a way to adopt a poor family like somebody mentioned previously, then it would be morally right to help those who are less fortunate especially if you can afford to.

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    Comment number 24.

    It brought tears to my eyes watching this program I cant believe little kids have to live in those digusting conditions. I mean come why are they living in a house full of damp and mould isnt it the councils right to come out and fixed the problem, dont they know its prone to health problems. And i wernt to happy about the kids playing in the abandoned house, how dangerous is that?, that house should of been boreded up if no one was living there so no little children could get access It was in a very bad condition holes were in the floors, what if they fell. Its shocking Ive got 3 kids myself, and I'm a single mother I dont work at the moment because im studying and i do find it a stuggle but i get by. I just hope sumthing can be done really watching this just broke my heart. kids are not stupid either and the ones in these programs were very intellegent. I just hope this dosent affect them wen they are older and they still have aspirations to do sumthing with their life.

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    Comment number 25.

    I am 39 and have just found out I lived in poverty. Until now I assumed I had a happy childhood but I am sure Jezza would have portrayed the sadness and desperation of my early years. Very strange.

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    Comment number 26.

    Shame on every politican who has let this happen ,this is not sum grim dickens story but britian in the 21st century .My question is why no mp has raised the question of giving poor familys fuel allowence in winter ,my parents who both have very good personl pensions and live in a very big house get a fuel allownce why ,there should be food stamps why is this not being done

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    Comment number 27.

    i am a single parent and i have managed to bring up my child with everything that he needs and more. we live in a clean house and live a normal life so if i can do it i cant understand how other people cannot. sometimes this poverty word comes from the way children are treated. lets face it if can heat the house, feed, clothe, buy my child things that other "normal children" have then i cannot understand why other people struggle so much, maybe they should work out the priorities of what the money should be spent on instead because i cant say its easy but believe me it is very possible. neither of us look like your sterotype single mother with scruffy kid!

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    Comment number 28.

    very moving, thank you. What amazing children.

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    Comment number 29.

    can't stop crying. hope all those bleeping bankers, politicians (of all colours), celebs, media tarts n all the professional (r& rich) grumblers about their "comfortable" (ie stinking rich) lives choke on their bleeping claret. those kids had more eloquence, intelligence, honesty and bravery than the whole of Westminster village, the square mile, and celeb-land put together. John Bull & Wat Tyler - where are u now? watching Sky tv no doubt.

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    Comment number 30.

    made me angry, we as a society allow this to happen, and it is only going to get worse, so sad. i hope the powers that be watch this, and have a heart to do something about it.

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    Comment number 31.

    Student nurse from Liverpool. This programme made me cry. It makes me realise why I want to be a nurse to help these poor marginalised people. I can't believe the conditions some of our children have to live in. Why is the Cammeron squad cutting money to families in need and yet they can somehow find the money for Royal weddings and wars?

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    Comment number 32.

    Is there anyway I can get clothes to Sams family?? I have 2 suitcases of decent clothes Kayleigh can have, was going to take them to a charity shop..but she can have them! Sam, I'll buy him a whole new uniform, I have a TV they can have, a DVD player, so they can get rid of those awful payback things, my son has a PS2 he doesn't use anymore....I would much rather these things go to people who genuinely need them! I'll even drive and deliver them!

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    Comment number 33.

    just so sad got me so upset

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    Comment number 34.

    i think however good we do in other countries we should start with ours first it is a society of have and have nots and i cannot understand how it is going to change we give to so many others but cannot look after our own its one of the most expensive countries to live in and its only getting worse so as far as i am concerned this country is a total disgrace and watch the rich get richer and the poor get poorer lets see in 10 years will it change absolutley no chance enjoy watching the program David Cameron and Nick Clegg

  • Comment number 35.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 36.

    Brought tears in to my eyes that these children are living in appalling conditions. Can't stand when people compare their lives to others. Everyone situation and cost of living is different. Those block of flats need to be knocked down!

  • Comment number 37.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 38.

    Well done on a great piece of televsion.
    It's good to see a programme maker poking the conscience of the nation, rather than pandering to nasty stereptypes like some other programmes do when it depicts people in poverty.
    It was honest, informative and refreshing. And all the more moving because it showed what it's like to be poor child in Britain. Those participating were very brave, as being poor attracts stigma and blame from the 'usual suspects'.

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    Comment number 39.

    This programme made me cry, and made me realise how luck I am.
    I used to live in poverty as a small child.
    Would it be possible for me to contact Sam and his family? I want to help out in any way that I can.
    I would love to be able to send them a letter of support.

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    Comment number 40.

    I would like to help in some way to make these poor kids lives better in some way.How can I do this ? I'm up for providing holidays, weekend activities, sponsorship, helping the patents to gain work , money whatever .
    Please let me know if this is poss Thanks


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