7 Days On the Breadline

Tuesday, 20 October 2009, 9:00PM – 10:00PM

Four celebrities, seven days on the breadline. In this series, Mel B, Trinny Woodall, Keith Allen and Austin Healey leave their comfortable lives behind to step into the shoes of families struggling to make ends meet in Britain.

For seven days, they will try to cope on the budget of the different households they join and in the process learn about problems faced by many families across the UK, such as the daily challenges of paying for food and bills on limited means, dealing with inadequate living conditions, having little or no money to entertain the children and trying to motivate tearaway teenagers to stay in school or get a job.

In this first episode, we follow the four celebrities as they travel to Leeds to meet their families for the first time. The celebrities know that the households they will be joining are living on low-incomes, pensions or benefits – and that they will be replacing a key member of the family. But they have very few other facts about who they’ll be joining beyond that it is a single parent household, a family with teenagers or an elderly person living alone.

Keith Allen

Keith Allen is best known for playing the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood, being Lily Allen’s Dad and for creating football anthem Vindaloo. But he’s about to embark on a completely new adventure.

“I’m expecting hardship. But I’m also in a way kind of looking forward to trying to get under the skin of the people and finding out how they cope with hardship and if they perceive it as hardship. I think foremost I’d like to get the message across ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down.'”

Before handing over his wallet and possessions, Keith buys a couple of bottles of bubbly for his hosts. And as he walks up the street in Lincoln Green, the neighbours call out to him that he has six children to look forward to living with. “Are you serious? Jesus Christ!” he replies.

Keith soon discovers that he will be replacing single mum Michaela, who lives with her six children ranging in age from eight to 16 and a Staffordshire bull terrier Axl in a cramped three-bedroom maisonette. Their father left seven years ago, and Michaela survives on benefits of £289.15 per week after deductions.

The family has been waiting for almost 10 years on the housing list to get a larger home. Inside the house, it quickly becomes apparent how crowded conditions are. Three of the children sleep in one bedroom, two sleep in another and a mattress has been laid out on the living room floor for 16-year-old Reece. The house is also in a poor state of disrepair.

As Michaela gives Keith the grand tour of his new digs, she warns him that rats often come out at night from underneath the kitchen counters. “We’ve got a graveyard outside where we chop their heads off and bury them,” she quips.

She says the infestation is also a problem in other houses in the neighbourhood.

During the next two days, Keith is on a mission to banish the rats from the kitchen, and clean and reorganise so that the food is as far as away from them and the rat poison as possible.

But after being kept awake until 4am by the older boys’ music, a knackered Keith first gets up to make breakfast. Later outside, he asks 15-year-old Carl how he copes with the lack of personal space and wonders what he thinks of the area.

Carl says, “It’s not worth anything.”

He wants to join the army at 16, and believes that the prospect of going to Afghanistan in the future is better than staying in the neighbourhood. His older brother Reece has similar ambitions.

Later Keith takes Reece along on the weekly shopping trip, where he has just £100 to spend to feed seven people.

Much to the amusement of Reece, Keith goes into an elaborate diatribe over the importance of knowing how many air miles your fruit and veg have travelled. He inspects the protein and fat content on every item and gripes that the chicken has probably been treated “like shit.” But with such a tight budget, reality soon kicks in and his principles are sacrificed.

“It’s amazing how quickly you just start thinking about value – just to get enough food,” Keith admits.

That evening, however, Keith is heartened as the children help him make a pizza in the newly organised kitchen instead of sitting in the living room watching television.

“They don’t see it as a house. They see it as a place to flop out and try to exist. Their sense of home is in their head. You know the kitchen was a very dead place and since I arrived I’ve noticed they actually do sit in there. There’s some kind of involvement in there. It’s not just about sitting in that front room watching television. It’s a room, it’s got a life. It’s full of air,” he says. “And I think it’s little things like that may leave some kind of lasting impression. I’m trying to communicate to them, it’s about them. It has to come from inside them.”

Austin Healey

Austin Healey, ex- rugby star who has been capped 51 times for England, is used to an idyllic country life with his wife and four daughters. But he will soon be joining Debra and Craig, who are just keeping their heads above water after buying their ex-council flat in Lincoln Green three years ago for £28,000. They borrowed money to fix it up and have a 100 per cent mortgage to pay back over the next 25 years. And with Craig and Debra’s agency employment being variable, like many working families they’re only a little better off then they would be on benefits.

Austin will be replacing stepfather Craig, who works as a lorry driver delivering furniture up and down the country and who is normally away during the week. He will be living with house proud mum Debbie, who works occasionally as a behavioural support worker, and their two sons 15-year-old Patsy and 19-year-old Luke.

The two sons share a bedroom, and Austin will have to make do on a camp bed in another bedroom, but the house is well-decorated and immaculate.

“My first impression is quite good. They are not living in the best neighbourhood but they have real pride in their environment and their own home,” says Austin.

Mum Debbie, however, faces other challenges – mainly motivating her two sons to stay on the straight and narrow. Patsy says he wants to do an apprenticeship in construction, but last year he barely showed up to school.

Son Luke does not attend college or work. He has been convicted for burglary and twocking but is awaiting sentencing.

The next day, Austin asks Debbie about Luke’s behaviour. “Luke’s a worry. I worry about him every time he goes out. But sometimes I overdo it worrying about him, because he’s not doing nowt wrong. It’s just his past. You think the worst all the time.”

Austin asks: “He’s done burglary already and he’s been convicted?” “Yes,” she replies and she starts to cry.

“I feel ashamed. I feel useless. I don’t like him for what he stands for and that’s even now. I just wish he’d change. But it ain’t going to happen.”

Austin says: “I don’t think you can blame yourself for it.” He gives her a hug.

Later, he reflects: “That was pretty awful. The emotional and mental turmoil is enormous.”

Trinny Woodall

Trinny, the child of a successful banker, had a privileged upbringing, attending boarding schools in Kensington, France and Germany. As an adult, she’s continued to circulate in the upper echelons of London society and has a built a successful career as a fashion adviser, television presenter and author.

So how will she fit in living in a home in Harehills, Leeds? “I don’t want to stand out on the estate and I still want to retain what I am and be true to me,” she says before arriving.

Trinny doesn’t know it yet, but she will soon be living with 69-year-old pensioner Christine Wright. Heavy smoker Christine has been married four times, has three children and 46 grand and great-children. She has remained friends with her latest ex-husband Bob, who acts as her part-time carer but she lives alone and spends quite a bit of time on her own.

Christine has mobility problems and can only walk 20 metres before she has to stop and rest. A walk to the shop to pay bills is like hiking up a mountain.

After Trinny arrives at Christine’s tidy red brick house, she discovers that she will replace Bob and become a carer. The two women hit it off quite quickly, although Trinny has to explain who she is as Christine doesn’t recognise her. Trinny will be living with her on the state pension, which for a couple in this situation would be £257.73 including benefits. She’ll be in charge of the budgeting for the next seven days.

As Trinny climbs the stairs up to her room to put away her things, she wonders why Christine lives in such a large home when she can’t walk very far.

“For someone who has a mobility problem this is a huge house with a lot of stairs,” she says.

Over the next day, Trinny gets to know Christine’s usual routine – which includes a trip to the bingo and lunch at a Chinese buffet. This is Trinny’s first time playing bingo and in her excitement she makes a false call.

The £5.90 all-you-can-eat buffet is a culinary challenge for Trinny. As she gamely heaps Christine’s favourite foods on her plate, she remarks: “I haven’t had a meal like this in 20 years. I look at it and wonder what it’s going to do to my stomach. I get worried when something looks so unnaturally pink.”

Trinny politely nibbles at the pink ribs, but later she rummages through her bag in her room for a more nutritious granola-type bar. “Oh that’s my midnight feast,” she jokes.

MEL B

Mel B shot to worldwide fame in 1996 as a member of the British pop band Spice Girls, but more recently she’s been living the LA lifestyle with her husband Stephen Belafonte and two daughters. She recently starred in US television programme Dancing With the Stars, but has decided to return to her roots to film this programme.

“I’m just going to take the bull by the horns and just go for it Mel B-style,” she says.

Mel will be replacing single mum of five Elaine. Elaine’s never been abroad, hasn’t worked for 20 years and supports her children on £256.16 a week on benefits after deductions.

The house, which is owned by a private landlord, is cramped. Her three daughters Chanelle, 12, Elisha, 6, and Tamara, 8, sleep in one room, which is piled with stuff. Mel will stay in Elaine’s room.

“You should sleep on this side of the bed because some of the slats are missing on that side,” she advises Mel.

Mel meets 18-year-old Tyrone, who has just got out of bed in the middle of the afternoon. Tyrone does not work or attend college. “I’ll have to have a chat to him about that,” Mel says to the camera.

She also meets 16-year-old Cameron, who is studying to resit his GCSEs and wants to be a DJ. After school, the other three girls come home to find a Spice Girl doing the dishes in the kitchen.

That evening, she takes the girls to the shop to pay the electric. The majority of low-income households in Britain, Mel’s included, pay for electricity and gas using pre-paid tokens, to ensure they don’t default on payments.

It’s much more expensive then by paying quarterly bills. It also means regular trips to the local shop for top-ups. Mel ventures out in the neighbourhood for the first time much to the amusement of the locals, some of whom ask for autographs.

Later she gets a lesson from the girls in how to work a deep fryer to make dinner of pizza and chips and she tells the family a little about her own daughters back in LA.

On Tuesday after taking the girls to school, Mel meets Elaine’s cousin Joanne and has the idea that getting Tyrone involved in fitness might improve his prospects.

Mel finds a gym for Tyrone. There’s only one problem – it’s 45 minutes across town.

Will he be interested in the membership?

Later Mel B encounters Tyrone at the house. “While I’m here I want to help you as much as possible. I want to be your friend and even after these 7 days I want to be able to have contact with you. I’m not here just for a quick fix. You’re 18. You want to be a brick layer. You need to get your body in shape. You need to get motivated which means not sleeping into three, and helping out around the house. And I thought, ‘how can I do it.’ Gym membership.”

She asks if Tyrone wants to ask her any questions, and he shakes his head no.

While out earlier in the day, Mel B has also convinced the gym to stay open late for her to return later for a work-out.

But first she cooks the girls’ dinner – a healthier meal than they’re used to.

As the evening ends, she leaves the children in the care of 16-year-old Cameron and the programme’s chaperone while she goes for a workout.

Famous Four move in for new ITV1 series on life on Housing Estates

Four famous people will step into the shoes of families living on low incomes in recession-hit Britain for a new ITV 1 series.

The broadcaster has commissioned Brighter Pictures, an Endemol company, to produce the 3×60 series in which Mel B, Keith Allen, Trinny Woodall and Austin Healey move into households on housing estates in Leeds, and in some cases even replacing a member of the household.

For seven days, they will try to cope on the budget of the different households they join. Each will engage with common issues important to residents such as community cohesion, identity and the challenges that arise from living on a low income.

The series also aims to highlight issues ranging from long-term unemployment and role models for young people to the isolation felt by the elderly as the celebrities find out if they can cope away from the comfort of their usual lifestyles and even make a positive impact on some of the problems they may encounter.

In 2007, Lincoln Green, one of the areas where filming will take place, was identified as being in the top three per cent of deprived areas in the UK. Unemployment is almost twice the national average and two thirds of elderly people are classed as living in poverty. Despite this, there is a strong sense of community and it is by no means the worst area in the country. The series aims to explore poverty, an issue of national importance, affecting 13.2 million people.

Brighter Pictures have been consulting with charities and community groups in the development of the series.

7 Days On the Breadline was commissioned by Jo Clinton-Davis, ITV Controller of Popular Factual and Alison Sharman, Director of Factual and Daytime.

Jo said: “We hope that exploring life at the sharp end of modern Britain in this personal and immersive way will bring home the challenges that are being faced on a daily basis by so many today and be an enlightening and enlivening experience for all involved.”

David Flynn and Phil Edgar-Jones are the series co-executive producers at Brighter Pictures, alongside series editor Jonathon Holmes:

Phil said: “It’s only by experiencing the budget and lifestyle of someone on a low income that you can truly understand the challenges that many people face every single day.”

David added: “Our celebrities are going to step into the shoes of people on the estate and it will be compelling to see how they cope and if they can make a difference. We hope the famous faces will learn much about their hosts, the communities they are staying in – and also themselves. And we’re confident both they and the residents will come away with a positive experience.”

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