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March's Midweek Movie - films and discussion

11 Apr 2016 | Greig Inglis

Approximately one in five (18%) people in Scotland are living in relative poverty. (Here, individuals are defined as living in poverty if their household income is below 60% of the UK median, after housing costs.) There is no shortage of statistics to describe the extent of poverty in Scotland, or research that demonstrates how poverty harms health and limits life chances.

These data are of course crucial for researchers, policy-makers and practitioners who aim to reduce poverty and improve all of our lives. What are often lacking however, are the personal accounts of those living in poverty. Without these personal insights into people’s lives, it is difficult to understand what poverty means and how it impacts on individuals’ lives.

This is why I chose two short films focusing on people’s experiences of poverty to show for March’s Midweek Movie. The first was made by the Guardian, I live in real poverty, and it's not what you think, and the second from the Poverty Alliance, Benefits: a lifestyle choice? 

I chose these films because they show two different personal accounts of poverty; the films illustrate how people experience poverty and add an emotional element that is often absent from research. In this sense the films are helpful for reminding us about what poverty actually means, and how it can affect people’s daily lives – which can be forgotten when focusing on headline statistics.


In the discussion that followed, we identified how films such as these could be used to complement our work. Researchers may find short films helpful in contextualising their research or for illustrating important findings for example, which can often feel abstract and detached from people’s lives. Including personal accounts may also help to raise the audience’s interest in research, enabling them to relate to the findings and engage emotionally with the issues raised.

The films also effectively highlight a number of important issues, such as how individuals living in poverty often have to pay more for goods and utilities than others do. In the film from the Poverty Alliance for example, the narrator describes having to take out a high-interest loan to replace a broken washing machine, and having to use a pre-paid meter due to being unable to afford a regular direct debit.

Using films to show the reality of people’s circumstances can also be effective in challenging assumptions and negative attitudes about poverty, which remain prevalent across Scotland and the UK. For example, 23% of respondents to the 2010 British Attitudes Survey believed that some people live in need because of individuals’ “laziness or lack of willpower,” compared with just 15% in 1995. Moreover, 18% of respondents to a 2013 survey conducted in Scotland thought that the main reason for child poverty was parents’ alcoholism, drug addiction, or other substance abuse. Challenging these negative and unfounded beliefs and raising awareness of the reality of poverty is essential in building wide-reaching public support for efforts to reduce poverty in Scotland.

Film can be a powerful means of providing context and meaning to research, and can be used to help represent those who are living in poverty, and to help people understand what poverty really means. Why not watch the films yourself and see what you think?

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