TV review: Poor Kids

This government's policy has little comfort to offer the UK's children who live in poverty, says Gary Day

June 16, 2011

Credit: Miles Cole

Every government minister should have been made to watch Poor Kids (BBC One, Tuesday 7 June, 10.35pm). It's just possible that, although they are politicians, they may have been moved by the plight of Sam, Courtney and Paige. One or two may even have felt a twinge of shame at being faced with children who often go without food in this "great nation of ours". But that may be too much to expect from our representatives. Their feelings are a little faulty, like their thinking. They preach modernisation while marching back to the past. So far, if we judge our journey in terms of the gap between the rich and the poor, we have only reached the Second World War.

But David Cameron has a dream that one day Britain will rise up and return to the Dark Ages. He has a dream that one day freedom and justice will be transformed into the sweltering heat of oppression and class privilege. He has a dream that one day the people of this land will be judged not by the content of their character but by the colour of their money. This is his hope. This is the faith with which he will create a mountain of despair out of a pebble of hope. With this faith, he will be able to turn the beautiful symphony of brotherhood into jangling discord. And, to be fair, the boy's done good.

The cuts have not even started to bite and Sam's dad already finds that he can't get a job. Sitting in his battered, plum-coloured living room, he tells how hard it is for three people to live on £420 a month. "That's what I used to get when I was working," he said. Really, you think the man would be a little more grateful for the way the state keeps him and his children in luxury.

Those who want to diminish the problem of poverty by saying that it's not as bad now as it was in the good old days when children ran shoeless over Northern cobbles should listen to Kayleigh, Sam's sister, on what it's like not to have money for an ice cream or a trip to the swimming baths. "You are conscious that you are different from others. You can't afford the things that they can and so you feel less worthy than them." They show how worthy they are by bullying you. This accentuates the feeling of worthlessness, which is relieved only by self-harm or, in extreme cases, suicide.

Sam and his friend Guy discussed the economy. "More and more people are being thrown out of work and food prices are going up," said Sam. "Soon everyone will starve to death." "I don't think they will actually starve," said Guy, although he hugged his lunch box closer to him. Sam was struggling to understand government policy. "They tell you to get a job, but how can you do that when, at the same time, they are getting rid of so many jobs?" But Sam is only 12 years old. What does he know? He doesn't realise that all the unemployed, including his dad, will soon be able to find work in the private sector. It's just a question of time.

Paige and her friend live in a tower block in the Gorbals area of Glasgow. They had the sort of conversation that children usually have. You know the sort of thing. "My dad is bigger than your dad." Except here it was "my flat is damper than your flat". It was hard to say who was right. Paige gave us a guided tour of her pad. Ceilings perspired, walls sweated. A whole ecosystem had sprouted on the mattress. "Clothes get mouldy if you put them near the window," she said, trying to make herself heard over a particularly noisy bluebottle. But it was her friend who carried away the honours. Her baby sister had fungus in her cot. Paige was lucky. She was rehoused. Her excitement as she ran around her new home, a very modest affair, shames us all.

Courtney lives in Bradford. She is seven years old and a good example of "the politics of envy". She actually admitted to being jealous of kids who went on holiday because they "get to learn more about this world and what happened in the past and that". She and her friend picked massive rhubarb leaves which they pretended were umbrellas - utterly useless for the storms they will face.

Camelot (Channel 4, Saturday 11 June, 9pm) is likeable tosh. Joseph Fiennes as Merlin moves as if he is being drilled by an invisible sergeant major. The first two episodes showed that the Dark Ages at least had a leader who cared about his people. One who was prepared to lead to them into the light.

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