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BBC Asks 'Why Poverty?' - Documentary Series Moving 'Beyond The Cliches We All Hear With Poverty'

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"It's time to look beyond all the unhelpful cliches about poverty and see if there's a bigger, wider truth to be explored."

The BBC's Storyville editor Nick Fraser is intent on doing just that, with his documentary strand, celebrated for all manner of subjects from Oscar-winning 'Man on Wire' to 'Mandelson: The Real PM?' joining forces with more than 70 broadcasters around the world as well as the Open University for what Fraser calls "his most ambitious project yet".

why poverty
Nick Fraser says there are lessons to be learnt from those living in poverty

Why Poverty? - a series of films commissioned to cover as wide a scope around the subject as possible - moves from the hospital wards of Sierra Leone to the duplex apartments of Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in its mission to uncover the threads of what we tend to brush under the carpet of 'global inequality'. Kicking off with Four Born Every Second tonight (10.35pm, BBC1), which looks at the fates and fortunes of those born into very different places on earth, the series moves to its home on BBC4 at the weekend, with 'Show Us The Money', exploring what has happened in the three decades since Bob Geldof made his impassioned plea to those watching their favourite musicians on stage at Wembley.

"They were very happy to talk to us," reports Fraser. "Of course, the backlash that came after was almost inevitable. But what came out of making the film was also just how much good Geldof and Midge Ure did manage to achieve."

Think Manhattan is peppered with billionaires? Well, it is, but that's not the full story. 'Park Avenue: Money, Power and The American Dream' (BBC4, 27 November) shows us that while one Park Avenue block may house more billionaires than any other building in the country, but it stands only five miles away from Park Avenue in the Bronx, where 40% live in poverty. How's that American Dream working out for them?

bob geldof
Bob Geldof discusses the good and the bad to have come from Band Aid

Fraser is intent, too, that all the associations we make with the word poverty be reexamined...

"There are so many cliches about it - that it only exists in Africa, that it comes hand in hand with drugs and crime, and these aren't in any way helpful to dealing with it. It's just relentless.

"We realised there's a greater truth to be explored. I'm not suggesting for one minute it's a favourable state, but there are aspects that can come with poverty - dignity, nobility, often a deep sense of charity, that we shouldn't ignore. When a woman is prepared to work as hard for her children as Rafea (the Jordanian mother of four who is the subject of Solar Mamas, where she is seen travelling to India to train as a solar energy engineer), it is so inspiring, so empowered, as to move far beyond what we traditionally associate with news headlines."

'Why Poverty?' stars tonight on BBC1 with 'Four Born Every Second' and continues at the weekend on BBC4.

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Around the Web

BBC - Poverty - Definitions

BBC News - Child poverty: Definition could include family breakdown

OU on the BBC: Why Poverty? - OpenLearn - Open University