films that make a difference
Cara is 9 and lives with her gran in West London; Rosie is 8 and lives in Hull with her mum and sister; and Niomi is 14 and lives in Suffolk with her brother and her Dad.
Through their eyes, and in their words, we find out what it's like when there’s just not enough food on the table; when choices have to be made to heat or to eat; when loan companies hear you are struggling and start bombarding you with texts; and when sudden illness means that a normal life vanishes overnight.
Broadcast to coincide with a major report released by Oxfam, Trussell Trust and Church Action on Poverty, this compassionate and moving portrait of life for the kids on Britain's breadlines has been made by BAFTA winning director, Jezza Neumann.
There are many specialised charities in the UK working to tackle the issues causes by poverty, which can offer help and support to children in similar circumstances to those shown in the film. Links to a range of organisations can be found at the bottom of this page. In addition you can find Food Banks and Breakfast Clubs in your area through the same links and donate food, money or your labour.
However if you specifically wish to help the families in the film, you can do so via True Vision’s charity – The Aletheia Foundation. Items can also be sent to our office at 49a Oxford Road South, London W4 3DD and will be passed on to the families. However if you do send anything to our office, please also include postage to cover the cost of sending your gift on. If you wish to send a cheque, please make it payable to The Aletheia Foundation.
Cara (9) has been living in West London with her grandma, Lucy, since last summer when her mother became too ill to look after her. Lucy is a chef who specialises in delicious Caribbean cuisine, but she’s on a “zero hours” contract, which means piecing together unreliable short-term freelance jobs. Cara is a bubbly girl who is always thinking about others and finding silver linings to the many clouds that currently hang over the family. She is passionate about music, plays the flute and sings in her local church and school choirs. More than anything, she’d like to be a doctor when she grows up and her strength of character means she won’t give up easily on her dreams.
Rosie (8) and her sister Becky(14) live in Hull with their mum Susan. With more people chasing each job vacancy in Hull than anywhere else in the country, times are tough for the family. Like hundreds of thousands of families in the UK last year the rising cost of living and the complexity and challenges of managing on benefits forced the family to turn to a food bank and local breakfast club for support. Determined to give her children the best start to life possible Susan goes to extreme lengths to find a line of work which she believes is the only way to provide for her children in the way she wants to. Wise beyond her years Becky escapes her reality through manga drawing, while Rosie's boundless optimisim provides some light hearted relief.
Niomi (14) lives in Suffolk with her dad Tom and brother Drey (12). Since Niomi was diagnosed with cancer last summer, her father Tom can no longer work and now has to rely on benefits to feed the family. Long delays have meant Tom has been forced deeper into debt and has had to turn to the local food bank for help. Niomi is brave and philosophical about the current struggles – she has even recently started to attend some classes back at school and recognises that education is important if you want to get somewhere in life. She’s keen to pursue her creative talents, loves making videos for YouTube and wants to go into photography. The family’s resilience and warmth have kept them going through a very difficult period and they’re hopeful things will look up for the rest of 2014.
When I was asked to shoot and direct a film about food poverty, I knew the team and I would be taking on a massive challenge.
As a society, we continue to stigmatise those who are struggling to stay above the poverty line, especially if they are collecting benefits or seeking financial support in any way. People are often made to feel like scroungers or a drain on society, so they travel in the shadows and try to remain unnoticed.
With every headline on the growth of food banks comes another on those who misuse them or play the system. Whilst there will always be those who are unscrupulous, the vast number of people we met on the ground in food banks and breakfast clubs across the country were adults and children just trying to exist in today’s economic climate. They were proud members of society who had worked hard in their time. As can happen to anyone, life had simply dealt them a blow and they needed a helping hand.
The more time we spent on the ground the more we realised how challenging this film would be. Many people were so embarrassed that they had to ask for food that there was no way they would go on national television.
By making Breadline Kids through the eyes of the children, we were able to uncover a tough subject through a section of society that rarely gets to express itself publicly.
But this brings its own issues and complexities, as a duty of care towards the children is paramount. There is always a fine balance between short-term crisis, and neglect.
With the vast majority of families we met it became immediately apparent how often parents were actually forced to neglect themselves – going without food rather than letting their kids go hungry.
In Haverhill Niomi spoke of the sacrifices her father made for her, often eating only one meal a day. For Tom it was clear, his kids came first, even if it meant swallowing his pride and heading to the REACH Resource Centre to ask for petrol money and food. One thing that was evident in all the households was how close the families were. This period of adversity had certainly brought them all together. Fighting Cancer is a tough battle in its own right let alone struggling for food and heat at the same time.
We knew early on that this was a film about hard choices: do I put food on the table or do I heat the room? Do I put food on the table or do I have electricity? (The irony here being that for many the electricity was what they needed to cook the food they could not afford to buy).
For Cara and her Granny Lucy, life was a weekly game of juggling what little money they could bring in. Buying food to sell food to buy food was certainly a different way to fix food poverty but at least it worked for Lucy, though it did not really bring in enough to change their life, just a little relief for a day or two. I caught up with Cara post filming to get some still photos and she was her ever bubbly self, full of self confidence and belief but still relying on the electric running off the emergency.
Before we even set about finding children, we drew up an extensive protocol on how we would operate with the children's best interests in mind – something we had experience of from previous films we’d made about vulnerable children in British society.
I guess the true test of how well we succeeded has been measured by the children’s reactions to the film and whether they see it as an accurate representation of their lives, and they seem to.
In fact, in Hull Rosie was well chuffed at how eloquent her sister Becky was and Becky just kept saying how sad she was for Niomi and how beautiful she was. I felt so touched to witness that moment of compassion. Even with the struggles they were going through their thoughts were just for the other kids.
This compassion could also be seen during our time in breakfast clubs and food banks. The cups of tea and friendly chat that Henry and his colleagues at the REACH Centre offer the people of Haverhill is almost as important to people as the food and financial support they offer. Something we witnessed in many of the food banks run by the Trussell Trust and independent organisations.
But the published figures may well be just the tip of the iceberg. Magic Breakfast helped us to access schools where we witnessed so many Heads and teachers going above the call of duty and in some cases personally supporting the kids themselves. There really is a vast tract of people in need of help who are not recognised in these official statistics.
In Hull the breakfast club run by Youth for Christ has become a social hub. As Anna the manager said, “Rather than people becoming dependent on it they actually become interdependent”.
The breakfast club is open to all, a community hub then forms whereby people mix and chat and suddenly people are helping people and a community spirit flourishes.
The community garden that Rosie and Becky work in is a spin off from the breakfast club and helps teach those in the community not only about healthy eating but also reinforces pride in themselves and pride in what they can achieve.
The team and I feel very privileged to have been invited into these families’ lives and have met some truly remarkable and inspiring kids who give us hope for the future.
As Cara said, “It is going to be tough” but the hopes and dreams still live on…for now.
Follow me on Twitter @jezzaneumann
Trussell Trust www.trusselltrust.org
Magic Breakfast www.magicbreakfast.com
Make Lunch www.makelunch.org.uk
Food AWARE www.foodawarecic.org.uk
Children’s Food Trust www.childrensfoodtrust.org.uk
The School Food Plan www.schoolfoodplan.com
Youth for Christ www.yfc.co.uk
End Child Poverty www.endchildpoverty.org.uk
The Children’s Society www.childrenssociety.org.uk
Save the Children www.savethechildren.org.uk
Church Urban Fund www.cuf.org.uk
Christians Against Poverty www.capuk.org
The Salvation Army www.salvationarmy.org.uk
The Poverty Alliance www.povertyalliance.org
Child Poverty Action Group www.cpag.org.uk
Joseph Rowntree Foundation www.jrf.org.uk
"If Benefits Street was a view of our social security system from Peter Hitchens and UKIP, then Breadline Kids was the reply from the soul of Polly Toynbee and the Church of England, and was consequently much nicer, more thoughtful, humane and moving"AA Gill - Sunday Times