I must’ve said this several times before but if there’s one thing that BBC3 do well it’s their documentaries and in 2013 they’re already off to a flying start. While the terrestrial channels are still busy celebrating the stars of London 2012 two new documentaries are shedding light on how last summer was for some of Britain’s teenagers. The first instalment of Growing Up Poor focuses on three girls from across the country all of whom are connected by the fact they’ve grown up in under privileged circumstances. Tim Lawton’s film is refreshing as he lets the girls speak for themselves and I never really feel he judges any of them for the situations they find themselves in though towards the end there is a little finger-pointing to be done towards our current government.
The first of the three young ladies we meet is Bridie a seventeen year old who has grown up in a world of drugs and booze and has never really known a childhood. We are introduced to Bridie as she is visiting some friends however we later learn that they live on a street that she has been legally banned from entering. As some vocal neighbours turn up to voice their disapproval about Bridie’s presence one of them calls the police which means she may be in trouble for breaking the terms of her bail. Indeed Bridie ends up spending a night in the cells and then appearing at Rotherham Court the next day thankfully she isn’t jailed but rather released on remand.
Through Bridie’s story, Lawton is trying to tell the youth of today that benefits don’t get you that much as she also tries to preach as she once thought she could easily live on £100 a week but now is struggling to even afford chips. The money worries pile up for Bridie when she discovers she will have to be a £170 fine for breaking the terms of her bail an amount she can little afford. This comes just after the news that the loans she has taken out need paying off and I personally was astounded that a girl of this age could’ve got so much money from lenders. I think that if most of us met someone as confrontational as Bridie on the street then we’d probably form a certain opinion of her but in this film we are sympathetic to her situation and see a young lady who wants to be something more than how she is. The only person who appears to have any time for her is Tina, one of her friend’s mothers, who tries to advise her to move away from Rotherham as the people there can only hold her back. I did fear for Bridie and how the future would turn out for her however at the same time I did hope she’d realise her dream to join the army as that would both get her away from Rotherham and teach her the discipline she greatly needs. Though ultimately she didn’t get into the army there was good news for Bridie as she’d reconnected with her mother and was considering starting a college course.
If Bridie’s story was an attempt to alter our opinions of teen delinquents then Amber’s story was an attempt to do the same for teenage mothers. Bradford-based Amber freely admits that her low self-esteem caused her to sleep around and being rightly branded a slapper however discovering she was pregnant changed her life around. As she tells the camera she can’t be a child and raise a child so instead she’s trying to make something of her life by attending a hair and beauty college course even though she can’t scrape enough money together to afford a notepad. Amber’s story highlights how much some families need handouts from the government with Amber’s own mother being only 19 when she gave birth to her. Later in the documentary Amber gives up the college course in an attempt to live off benefits though she discovers that she cannot claim until she is 29 weeks pregnant. Thankfully with advice from her doctor she discovers about all the money she is entitled to and gets at least enough money to decorate her son’s room and to put a carpet down on it. Inevitably the final scenes see Amber giving birth to her son Oscar and you can see that she will now devote her life to caring for him although we do learn that she is considering taking up her college course again as a means to provide for him when he’s older.
Personally of the three girls featured the most engaging and likeable had to be Glaswegian teen Shelby who is almost completely self-sufficient at the age of seventeen. Shelby told us of her aspirations to be an actress though, as she grew up in a poor household, there was no money for acting lessons so instead she just caused trouble. It appears as if Shelby had been kicked from pillar to post as she had stayed with her aunt, her dad and friends before claiming housing benefits and being able to afford her own flat. Shelby was currently stacking shelves as part of a six month work placement but was no better off than she had been on benefits though you got the impression that she really wanted to impress her boss to get a full time job. We also saw her budgeting her weekly shop and you could tell from this scene alone that she had her head screwed on the right way even viewing sock-buying as a luxury. Eventually Shelby comes into some luck when one of her new work colleagues agrees to drive her to her grandmother’s house to pick up the oven she has been wanting and a couple of unwanted sofas are also thrown into the bargain. This joy is short-lived however when Shelby learns that the oven has now power leads luckily this is an excuse for her dad to come round and help her fix the oven up and at the same time repair their relationship. At the end of the documentary I had so much hope for Shelby and just wished that she’d come good and got the full time job she deserved however this didn’t happen. Instead Shelby didn’t get a full-time position at the shop and now finds herself six months pregnant something she earlier said she wouldn’t let happen.
Growing Up Poor was just one of those documentaries which just stays with you due to the characters involved and the situations they found themselves in. It was clear to me that Lawton was attempting to challenge our preconceived ideas of young delinquents, teenage mothers and youngsters who were already claiming benefits. These three young women had grown up only knowing a world where they were constantly moving house and seeing their parents signing on so thought they could only do the same. As I said I felt for Shelby the most as she was someone who was trying to break the pattern and do something about her life but she was the one who suffered the most setbacks and ultimately is now stuck with a baby to look after. Shelby’s story was also the one that had something to say about David Cameron’s current plans to stop housing benefits for the under-25s which would mean that youngsters like her would be on the streets. The abiding message of Growing Up Poor is that you shouldn’t tar everyone with the same brush because, while I’m sure some do abuse the benefits system, there are youngsters and families who do need the money they are being given. Overall this was a well-made film with a clear message and I just hope we get an update on these three great young ladies in a year’s time.
Did you watch Growing Up Poor? What did you think to the three girls involved? Leave Your Comments Below.