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What is it like to live on little? These memoirs will tell you

Looking for books that provide an insight into the lived experience of poverty?

Here are four memoirs – two from the UK and two from the US – that provide (more than a) glimpse into the daily grind, hustle and struggle to make ends meet. While contexts and personal stories differ, they all show that low-paid and precarious work, unnavigable and harsh welfare systems and the dehumanisation of people living on little are all but some of the realities of poverty. They are stories of anger, frustration, pain and despair, but also of resilience and hope. Read, read, read!

From the UK:

Skint Estate is a must-read by author and playwright Cash Carraway. It provides a powerful insight into the struggle to make ends meet in the UK. More so, it lays bare the Kafkaesque labyrinth that is the welfare state in the UK, and how it fails, frustrates and shames its beneficiaries rather than helps them. Raw, gritty and full of humour!

In Poverty Safari, Darren McGarvey describes his life growing up in one of the poorest areas in Britain. He talks about the many forms of violence that percolated daily life, about being failed by public services on many occasions and about the unfairness, frustration and anger that comes with the well-to-do getting to decide about the lives of those living in poverty. In doing so, McGarvey also offers a mirror for everyone across the political spectrum, highlighting the need for structural change and for every individual to play their part.  

From the US:

In Maid, Stephanie Land describes her struggles to keep her head above water as a single mother working as a domestic cleaner. It shows the resilience and strength that is needed to face the daily unpredictability of work, careful planning to make ends meet and many whims of employers and landlords. It also conveys how acts of kindness and respect can make a big difference.

Hand to Mouth by Linda Tirado is a gripping account of the daily grind of poverty, and the soul-destroying inability to escape the treadmill of moving from one low-paid and precarious job into the next. Always tired, always short of time and almost always in some sort of pain; these are some of the recurring themes in this poignant memoir. Set in the US, the lack of affordable healthcare is particularly harsh aspect of a system that stacks the odds against those living life on the breadline.

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