What Does Poverty Feel Like 50 Years On?

My family home when I was born is currently ranked in the top area for deprivation in Swansea, but my parents loved it there, with Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles all within a stone’s throw of each other, a real community.

Our home caught fire when I was 3 months old, – we were moved temporarily to another community moving up the lofty ranks of deprivation raising to what would now be third on the list for poverty.

By this time my father had had his 4th heart attack which rendered him disabled and we lived each day on high alert wondering when his next one would be and if it would be his last and we no longer had our community around us.

We were then moved to a brand-new council estate in one of the most affluent areas overlooking the sea. My parents thought it was their chance to change our futures and were delighted, they were living in a brand new home, the stuff dreams were made of and deprivation was not heard of – but we were judged more than ever surrounded by self-righteous people and we were now the other side of the city from our family and support.

I was brought up in a council house by a disabled father whilst my mother worked all hours to keep the peas on the plate, her dogged persistence that we would fit in meant she was absent from my life during my childhood – working 3 jobs to keep up with the Jones’s – or in my case the Thomas’s.

Children in Wales – Poverty Related Bullying reports 85% of the Children & young people who responded to state that being bullied or looked down on affected children in poverty the most.

We did not belong, as it felt like no one else in my school was like us, there were only a handful that were called out first each day because we had free school meals. My best friend was the only child in the whole school from a single parent family – united in difference. No one came to watch me at sports day or school concerts, because my father was always humiliated that he was not the breadwinner and he would be the only Dad there, which he felt would be too embarrassing.

I was never invited to tea or birthday parties because I was the “council house girl” and must be trouble. My childhood was different to my peers, and I knew it. I was judged for my circumstance and status and not accepted for who I was.

But children today in 2022 are still being judged by their peers the report states –

“They may look different because they don’t have enough money to buy new clothes, coats and shoes, sometimes their clothes don’t fit properly, and they feel self-conscious and worry that other kids will pick on them and be nasty.”

(Under 10)

Then move on 20 years – after my eldest son was diagnosed with Aspergers and we searched for a school where he would belong and funnily enough – a new head teacher at my old primary school welcomed him with open arms – she provided him with an

inclusive, caring and wonderful education that provided him with the foundation to be the fabulous young man he is now.

However, when I rocked up at the PTA social event, I was pointed out by a long-life teacher, who was behind the times of EDI (this was 25 years ago) that I wasn’t that council house girl with a disabled dad and a working mum. She once more put me straight in the box she wished me to be in, stating to everyone that could hear her, in her own way that I did not belong. She made me feel small, uncomfortable, and unwelcome as an adult in the same way she did as a child.

The survey showed that children and young people frequently commented on feeling embarrassed about their home environment and not wanting, or being able to invite friends round. The responses of ‘making jokes’ or ‘scared’ to have anyone over shows children and young people potentially being anxious of being made fun of.

I guess that’s when I got tenacious about fairness and the desire that everyone counts, and we are all valuable and deserve the best opportunities to be who we are and to belong.

My journey through my exposure of ignorance as a child, then wanting my children to have a different experience of education and then as a young mum once more being made to feel that I did not fit in, has instilled in me the desire to live my values of kindness and active compassion and be brave to call out those who are not. Faith in Families values are of Compassion, Aspiration, Respect, and Empathy.

The future is ours to create, is this what we want for our future generations? – the report concludes –

Fear of poverty related bullying, either perceived or real, does have an impact on the mental health of children and young people. They are increasingly anxious and concerned about this and for many, this not only happens within the school environment, but within their communities and social networks. This fear can lead to isolation in all aspects of children and young people’s lives.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”

Desmond Tutu.

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