Last night saw the airing of the heartbreaking, infuriating, tear jerking, scandal uncovering and shocking documentary Poor Kids. If you haven't seen it yet, please please do, you can still watch it in the next 7 days. It tells the story of growing up in poverty from those doing the growing up in poverty. The kids are talking, it's their story and they have more wisdom than most of us.
The documentary did so many things that are often lacking. Whenever you mention the term child poverty in connection with the UK, you get more or less the same reaction. People with no actual experience of what it means to live in poverty blame those living in poverty for their situation. Surely, they're on drink, fags, drugs and that's why they're poor. Get a job, get off your backside, take responsibility, don't have kids.
Just that, you know, it's not true. There aren't enough jobs to go around and even if you have a job you may end up in poverty (half of the children growing up in poverty actually have a parent in work). Above all, it's NEVER the child's fault, so for the sake of our next generation, stop blaming the parents (who for the most part don't deserve being blamed) and do something about the real causes of poverty.
Then there's the flat denial. We're a rich country, there's no real poverty. You find real poverty in developing countries, not here, I hear the choir of voices. Well, yes and no. Of course, you'll find more severe poverty in other countries. It's still not right that children should grow up going regularly without food or having to breath in mould that cause asthma attacks. It's also not right that children growing up in poverty have eff all chances to turn the corner and achieve in life. A generation back, it was doable, now it's almost impossible. The film made it more than clear though that children in the UK grow up in poverty right now, a poverty that for the richer half is unimaginable. It shocked, and hopefully this will translate in some engagement with the issue, campaigning, and ultimately change.
Thirdly, Jezza Neumann, the director, truly gave a voice to children experiencing poverty, his own blog post elaborates on how the documentary was made. The kids were intelligent, articulate and strong, and great care was taken not to exploit their situation, and make sure they and their parents were happy with what and how things were presented. For children who are already picked on at school for not having decent clothes to wear or for smelling of mould, it is so important that a documentary like this doesn't add to the bullying that's already happening. And I think they came out of it stronger, and I'm sure their classmates will now look up to them, amazed at how well they cope with their situation.
Finally, Poor Kids cannot but start a debate about poverty. This is extremely important because in an environment where poverty is heavily stigmatised and there is a culture blaming those experiencing it, and holding on to the erroneous belief that every body is born with equal chances, poverty is more hidden than ever. Which in turn means that tackling poverty is much more difficult: It's unseen (those who experience it try to hide it), or people don't want to see it (blaming it on individual choice made by those experiencing it rather than shortcomings of society).
More than ever, it's vital that issues around poverty, and child poverty in particular, are debated in the open. What makes it difficult, and the undertaking of this documentary so laudable, is that it's hard to present poverty without victimising or stigmatising the people portrayed, and one has to be mroe than wary (do I need to mention "The Scheme?"). No child wants to be portrayed and ousted as "poor". And, children growing up in poverty in deprived areas may not even see themselves as poor, because, after all, our definition of poor always relates to someone less well off than our own selves.
So, when I started to work with some children in an area with multiple deprivation, and I asked what was good about the area, the answer was "there's no poverty here". In the same breath, the children told me how their flats were mouldy and drafty, overcrowded and how there were no jobs locally. How whenever it rained, the water would come in through windows that don't shut properly and how it was freezing cold in winter.
So there's no poverty here?
If you want to do something about ending child poverty in the UK, visit Save the Children who focus all their efforts in their UK work on ending child poverty right here right now, as part of the No Child Born to Die campaign.