‘I’m determined to break the shameful quietness of poverty’

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  • Cash Carraway has spent most of her life living below the breadline. Now she joins a wave of female writers speaking out about it

    ‘In the numb aftermath of a suicide attempt, which came in the shadow of homelessness and a food bank winter, I wrote down my experiences of a decade lost to austerity. My intention was to challenge stereotypical media portrayals of scroungers, who were stigmatised, or victims who were sympathised. As a working-class writer, I wanted to deliver my own story in my book Skint Estate. And I’m not the only one. This spring saw the release of Kerry Hudson’s moving memoir Lowborn, and Common People by Kit De Waal featuring established and rising voices taking charge of their working-class narratives.

    ‘In the UK, 14.2m people live in poverty. I grew up in one of south-east London’s most deprived areas, but my family didn’t fit into the media’s portrayal of a feckless working class; my dad held down two low-paid jobs and our house was show-home clean, thanks to my mum’s severe OCD. We were working class but not living in poverty. And yet behind our normal existence, my parents were haunted by generational violence and addictions, and too traumatised to break the cycle of abuse.

    ‘I left home, and survived my twenties taking cover with men who shielded me from financial hardship, but who were violent to me. I then found myself living in poverty in a women’s refuge with a broken face and a baby in my belly. After giving birth to my daughter in 2010, I watched in fear as the Conservatives and Lib Dems formed a coalition that would hit women like me harder than any man. I was angry I’d been deprived of a say in the matter; the women in the refuge were refused the right to vote in the 2010 election because we lived at a temporary address.

    ‘In the summer of 2017, my seven-year-old daughter and I were sharing a rat-infested room near Grenfell Tower. Outside our window, the burnt-out building stood out against the skyline and roar of traffic. It was in that moment I heard the silence of the working class and realised my daughter had spent her life living under the shameful quietness of poverty. I’ve always worked, but it’s a losing battle fighting rising rents on minimum wage, zero-hour jobs and, after another eviction, we were moved to temporary accommodation 50 miles away. It was then I started to wonder – where are all the other unheard voices like mine?

    ‘That’s when I decided to write Skint Estate. Being offered a book deal was the first time in my life that I felt a glimmer of hope – that it was possible to make a stable life for my daughter and me, and change the mainstream poverty narrative.’

    Skint Estate by Cash Carraway is out 11 July (£14.99, Ebury Press)

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