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.?

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    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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    One problem with tackling poverty comes in the way it is measured. The somewhat arbitrary 'poverty line' of 60% of median income does not necessarily capture the whole picture. Poverty is much more, it can be argued, than income deficiency alone and there are many facets which should be considered. Further it is questionable how successful government policies are in tackling poverty. The incumbent government claims to have reduced the number of children living in poverty by half a million or so since 1998. However it is quite possible that poverty reduction policies have been aimed at getting people from just below the poverty line to just above it, therefore appearing to reduce poverty if we look at the figures but in reality not much has changed. We need to look at the plight of the poorest of the poor and their experience in terms of lack of opportunity - something which is not captured by this 'headcount' measure of income poverty that is so widely reported.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    I too want to help these kids so I just googled jezza neumann and found the company who he works for so will contact them, don't know if they can help at all but worth a try, i might try save the children as well as I sometimes donate to them. Feel I must do something after reading this blogg, just amazes me there are kids living like this today, i really must live in a bubble.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Well i grew up with a poor up bringing as well

    Haveing to wear second hand cloths etc and yes i was bullied very badly at school.

    I remember have to look around house as a child for change just to get a bottle of milk.

    House was that cold in teh winter that the ice used to form on the inside of the window.

    This took place in the 80s over in the west Midlands.

    Even remember haveing to wear plimsoles as shoes as was poor.

    My Step dad and mom where on benefits.

    With my ounger brother and sister.

    Sadly i left home and went to work back in 1998 now i have a very well paid job and a family of my own who are spoilt lol

    But yes i escaped it all in the end.

    My mother is still on benefits with very little cash along with my younger brother

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    When I was a teacher in a large school in South Bristol, there was one 11 year old girl in my tutor group who was always late. One day, on her return to school after one of her rare weeks off (on reflection I should have noticed that she was off for a week, never for the odd day, but there was always a letter), she said to me, "My Dad loves me really." By chance a social worker was talking to the Head of Year. I told her about this rather strange comment. She said that she would see what she could find out.

    The result. As I knew already, this girl walk across a mile of derelict ground to get to school. But every morning she took her 3 younger siblings to their Primary School - they were always on time in clean clothing. But it turned out that at home the girl would be given money every day to cook for and feed the family. If the meal wasn't ready when her parents wanted feeding she got beaten (explains the absences). The children all ended up in care.

    But my point is that this problem had remained hidden. The primary school (which had a good record at identifying children at risk) didn't notice any particular problem. When the girl was in my school she was hard working in lessons, showing none of the indicators we had been asked to look out for. She was skilled at covering up what was happening in her life.

    How do you find these children? They are all around us.

    I haven't seen the programme yet, but I think it should be shown at a better time to get a larger audience. After Eastenders perhaps.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I notice that there's not much comment from the meanfaced nasties you usually get their kicks slagging off poor and low paid families and blaming them for their poverty. You know the type who ring up the Jeremy Vine show or such like demeaning out of work and young single mums saying they get too much benefit and so on. All judgement and disdain and so below the principalled people they have turned out to be. Usually Tory but Labour and LibDem get their whips out too.

    I loved your programme. I loved it that you got the views of these kids and showed them to be every bit as intelligent, inventive, creative and profound as those growing up in well off and rich families who think they have ownership to judge because they have to pay a proportion of their income in taxes to help others less fortunate the lives of which they know nothing about.

    I hope your programme makes a difference and brings home to the government that the people they so eagerly condemn and demean every chance they get, are human and every inch as good if not better than the children of those multimillionaires and billionaires who sit in cabinet and judge and begrudge them their measley benefits that barely keep them sustained and secure.

    Glad I watched it although it tore my heart out. I want it to make a difference and hope some of those from the wealthy wellbread wellschooled club who make up the present government watched it too, although I don't think there's much there where the heart, desensitised by class, tribal elitism and prejudice, should be.

    It's forecast that Coalition policies will force another 300,000 children into poverty.

    Good for you, a job worth doing I'd say.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Reading this interview took me back to my own childhood and living in poverty. Like these kids, I often went hungry, had clothes and shoes that were too small and was under court supervision for many years due to my home conditions and it has to be said, lack of parental care. Eventually, I was taken into care where I remained until I was 18. The stigma of being poor never leaves, but I not ashamed of my experiences. It saddens me that some 25 years on, we haven't been able to abolish child poverty in this country. These kids desperately need a chance because god knows, they don't have much of one at this moment in time. I also agree with other people and would love to do something, even something as basic as buying Sam school clothes to fit. I've been there and it does make a difference. BBC - please take note of these comments and put us in touch with those who can allow us to do something positive and give alittle back to those in need. Its the very least we can do as compassionate people who do care. God bless these kids.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Why is this desperately important programme on at such a stupid time?

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I was brought up in poverty. Whose fault was it? My father who smoked, drank and gambled too much. I am now a single parent and my child is 21. I did not squander any money I was given on smoking, drinking, recreational drugs, gambling, jewellry, getting my hair and nails done or make -up. I did not have multiple lovers. My child did not wear designer clothes and had to stand the taunts from those poor children who had designer clothes, tvs in their bedrooms, tvs the size of fireplaces in their lounge but lived on appalling estates whilst the money provided by the state paid for the parents smoking, nights out, car repairs, catalogue items, expensive toys, make-up. I went without and managed to buy a house and used aupairs to work to bring up my son. I did 2 jobs for more than 10 years and still do dur to the recession.The only way that you will stop child poverty is to stop giving the money to the parents but give them vouchers for the child to have clothing, free school meals, holidays, free travel. I got nothing from the CSA but my taxes paid for those married and single with more money and children that they could not afford to have more benefits than I could ever dream of.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    I grew up in a single parent family because my dad died while my mum was expecting me. My experience of growing up (in the 80s-90s - there must be a pattern emerging here considering the government) until my teens wasn't as good as other kids financally, but we always had food on the table and were able to go on holidays because of help from our extended family. We didn't always have what we wanted for birthdays and Christmas, and we were always running out of 50p pieces for the electricity and had one of those coin operated TVs which kept running out of money and sometimes had to accept hand-me downs of clothes, toys etc from family and friends, but that was about as bad as it got. Sadly my mother also passed away when I was 14 and things got worse after that. It's horrible that some of the kids in the program have to go without food during the holidays and at weekends and I can understand that because I experienced the same thing while I was at college. I think it's pathetic that things have gone backwards for children in poor families since the 80's not forwards and are worse off than I was. People are always slamming poor people because they think that they are lazy but sometimes it's more of a matter of circumstance like deaths in the family rather than people getting themselves into that situation. What people need to remember is that it's the kids that really suffer and my childhood would have been a lot worse without the support of my extended family. I do have one question though - why aren't these families featured in the program helped out by their extended families? Poverty is bad and is made far worse when folks can't rely on their families to help support them, even if it's just with childcare during the school holidays. Is this family breakdown to blame for the current plight of these children? Maybe. The government's current cuts and slashing of services in local councils don't help either. I am currently graduating from University and I can only hope that the same oppertunity is presented to these children when they are older because they deserve it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    These families are supposedly on £1,000 a month AFTER housing costs.. thats not poverty!.. these families have an attitude problem and a budgeting problem. I have the same budget, though I have to pay all my own housing costs.. but my bills are paid, my family well fed... and I live in a large house, in deepest Norfolk , so spend more on transport, but I can afford to have this probably because I avoid spending a fortune down at the pub, or going out to do the luxury things I KNOW I cannot afford... it sickened me that these families were regarded as being in poverty.. I had to switch over.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    I partially grew up in poverty as my father became chronically ill when I was 10. I was lucky in that I knew what it was like before he became ill and that motivated me, and because I went to a grammar school. A good education - and my parents' belief that education was vitally important - got me to university and a decent job. My brother wasn't so lucky: he and his wife are both currently working, in manual jobs on shifts. However, while they don't earn a lot they and their children are definitely better off than the poor people in this programme.

    I cried when I saw that poor little's girl's eczema - I have never seen such a severe case and I am sure that the conditions those children are living in absolutely must be responsible for exacerbating the condition. I was also in tears when Kayleigh talked about having tried to kill herself. I can't tell you how much I feel for all of those poor kids.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Dafny above commented that she would like to "adopt" a family which I am sure a lot of people would agree to do. I am horrified to think that these children live in such conditions while our Government sends millions abroad to "poor" countries like India. Hopefully this can be used as a tool to redirect some of that money where it is deserved in this country. Thank you for highlighting this - warts and all - it must have been so very hard to make - I am tears listening to how matter of fact the children are about their circumstances. Situations like this MUST change

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    This is truly heartbreaking. Nobody should have to live like this in this country of so much wealth. But i guess where theres wealth theres unbelievable greed. Who on earth really needs millions in the bank when there are fellow human beings with so little. A sick society!

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Excellent documentary Jezza. I'd like to buy Sam a new school uniform. How can I do this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Dear Jezza
    I want to help Sam and the children on your documentary by making an anonomous donation of uniform and clothes etc... how can i do this?
    Kindest Regards


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