8 June 2011

Poor Kids - our national shame

Every now and again a piece of domestic TV journalism can fundamentally alter the opinions of whoever sits and watches it, purely by presenting the facts in a dispassionate way.

Until last night, my favourite contemporary piece of TV journalism was The Battle for Barking - bringing to life the story of the BNP bid to win the Barking and Dagenham seat at the last general election. As a documentary I would argue it did more in 90 minutes to destroy the credibility of the BNP than any number of dull public meetings or set-piece protests over the years.

But Poor Kids, shown on BBC1 last night, has eclipsed it. Following the fortunes of three normal kids in different parts of England and Scotland struggling to live below the poverty line, this documentary strikes a mortal blow to anyone still fantasising that there is any sort of equality of opportunity in the UK or that unemployed people living on benefits do so as some sort of lifestyle choice.

I won't go over the detail. You just need to watch it.

To my mind, every politician who has held any position of authority over the last 30 years, regardless of their party or ideology, should be corralled into a room and forced to watch Poor Kids. Then put in front of a national audience on live television to explain why there are still kids in the UK living in third world squalor, missing out meals and lacking even the most basic clothing.

Even if it can be argued some of the blame can be laid at the door of the parents, surely the state cannot stand by idly allowing situations like those depicted in Poor Kids to continue. What is worse from watching this show is you can see how easily kids from these desperate situations can be easily sucked into criminality as an escape route and quickly go from being the innocent victims of our brutalised society to being the very people villified in the tabloids as the chav-scum deserving of nothing but our collective contempt.

Poor Kids could be a powerful rallying point for the left to rebuild the basic idea of having a stronger state safety net away from the vagaries of the market to genuinely ensure no children suffer the ravages of poverty through no fault of their own.

Socialists of all shades, within Labour and outside it, could easily agree on a basic set of demands to guarantee kids living below the poverty line in the 6th richest country of the world are not sat terrified of the future and contemplating suicide before they even reach their teens.

Sadly, in the age of information overload, this documentary and the lessons we must draw from it will likely be forgotten by the time we go to the ballot box in 2015.

It is to our eternal collective shame there are 3.5 million kids living below the official poverty line in this, the wealthiest and supposedly greatest of nations.

I call it Great Shitain. Rule Shitannia.

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