What does it mean to be poor? For decades the dominant narrative in the UK and US has been that it is caused by personal flaws or ‘bad life decisions’. People are ‘lazy’, ‘dependent’ and ‘irresponsible’. This ‘story’ has become embedded in the public consciousness with serious ramifications for how financially vulnerable people are seen, spoken about and treated.
Drawing on a two-year story-telling project and her own experience of childhood poverty, this book by award-winning journalist and author Mary O’Hara, argues for a radical overhaul of this fundamentally pernicious portrayal. Crucially, it turns to the real experts to try to find answers – the people who live it.
"A necessary book in divisive times." Jameela Jamil, actress and activist
Mary O’Hara is an award-winning journalist and author specialising in social policy and social justice. She was inspired to write about social issues in part because of her experience of childhood poverty growing up in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Mary freelances across a number of publications and platforms including The Guardian and Mosaic Science. She was named International Columnist of the Year in 2017 and 2018 by the Los Angeles Press Club Southern Calfornia Journalism Awards for her Guardian column, Lesson From America. She is also an executive producer on the podcast Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness and founder of the anti-poverty intitiative, Project Twist-It.
Mary is the author of Austerity Bites: A Journey to the Sharp End of Cuts in the UK and has contributed to other books including The Violence of Austerity (Pluto Press, 2017) and ‘Council Skies’ (2019) by the artist PeteMcKee. In 2009-2010 she was an Alistair Cooke Fulbright Scholar at UC Berkeley. Mary is also the founder and chair of the David Nobbs Memorial Trust.
PART ONE – The Inconvenient truth: Poverty is real
Who are these poor people anyway? Being poor in the UK
How can anyone be poor in the richest country in the world? Being poor in the USA
PART TWO – Screw You Poor People: Shame, stigma and the cementing of a toxic poverty narrative
A Twisted Tale: Untangling the toxic narrative
Lights, Camera, Vilification: The narrative in action
Feeling It: What poverty, shame, and the narrative do to us
PART THREE – Flipping the Script: Challenging the toxic poverty narrative: 2 chapters
Changing Times: The battle to reclaim the poverty story
Re-frame this: Rethinking how we talk about poverty