‘When I pick up my baby sister’, says Courtney, (aged 9), ‘she smells of mould’. Courtney’ s not exaggerating. Nor is she making a joke. The ceiling of her white bathroom is covered in black fungus. The damp is making them sick.
Courtney’s not living in a third-world country with her family. They’re in a condemned tower block, in a part of Glasgow. So why don’t they move? They can’t afford to. 82% of the local residents are impoverished. Courtney dreams about living in a house without mould, that’s not surrounded by violence and drugs. ‘What I hate about the flats is you feel that you want to be sick when you have visitors. I don’t like having pals in my house, in case they bully me’.
Then there’s Sam, an 11 year-old from Leicester. Sam also dreams, about an amazing new invention. ‘It’s called the pound coin’ he says. ‘But it ain’t any ordinary pound coin. It’s a TV pound coin. And it’s not any ordinary TV pound coin. It’s a limited pound coin and once you drop it in it’ll say zero, zero,zero, zero and it won’t turn off until you turn it off’.
Sam’s dad, Steve has a broken backbone. He’s trying to find a job and raise three kids on £420 a month. Sam’s mum left them when he was two. That was on his birthday, now known as ‘the dark day’. Like most 11 year-olds, Sam has his obsessions. Not dinosaurs or X-Men. Food. ‘We have to use scraps of what we have left for our dinner. So one night, we might have fish and chips or a sausage and then, the next, we might run out of money and have to use what we’ve saved. We’re like dustbins’.
Sam is one of 1.6million British children surviving on less than 50% of the average UK household income. That’s less than £134 a week for a single parent with a child. If we take into account those families surviving on less than 60% of the average income, it’s 3.8 million children. One in three under-16s in the UK.
We hear a lot about spoilt children, brat camps and a culture of entitlement. These kids however, are living hand to mouth – and they’re on our doorsteps. To watch the interviews, check out http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/video/2011/jun/04/children-poverty-video.
It’s disturbing, hard-hitting stuff. But closing our eyes won’t make it go away.