Poverty Safari by Darren McGarvey:
‘Poverty Safari’ by Darren McGarvey was hiding in my ‘to be read’ pile when I quickly grabbed it as I belatedly realised I didn’t have a book for my commute but that I was already running late! Having been first published in 2017, I picked up a copy late last year having noticed that it was an Orwell Prize winner, and then I promptly forgot I owned it… ooops.
To be completely honest it wouldn’t have been my first choice to read, but as already mentioned it was grabbed in a rush. And, as is so often the case, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I finished; this is the first truly intense ‘book hangover’ I have had for a long time. In part, this is because of the stark contrast to the book I had finished beforehand ‘Should Rich Nations Help the Poor?’. Here, David Hulme, presents an academic and theological argument, backed up by research, statistics, and case studies to argue for a concerted effort to tackle global poverty. In a full 180 degree pivot, McGarvey quite literally uses his personal history and stories to illustrate the stark realities of living in poverty.
The first chapter of his book is called ‘Crime and Punishment’ where he describes holding a rap workshop in a prison. He describes this scene by saying “[t]he faster they feel they have a stake in participating, the less likely they are to revolt or become apathetic. The sooner they get into the book, the harder they’ll find it to put it down”. McGarvey is definitely not wrong with that assertion, effortlessly throughout the book he keeps his audience engaged, be that through uncompromising harrowing accounts of systemic poverty, or flipping the coin on its head and “becoming the expert”.
One of the key parts of McGarvey’s writing that hit home with me was his assertion that “people like me don’t write books”. It provided me with a stark wake up call to check my own privilege. It is such a clear illustration of how we are missing so many important voices: who else’s voices are we missing? He later writes “[b]rexit Britain, in all it’s dysfunction, disorder and vulgarity is perhaps a glimpse of what happens when people start becoming aware of the fact that they haven’t been cut into the action but have no real mechanism to enfranchise themselves beyond voting”. What can we really say we’ve learnt, when we still see tweets, articles, and political broadcasts framing poorer leave voters as ill-educated and not worth listening to? Arguably nothing.
In his chapter ‘The Outsiders’ McGarvey states “[t]his is the poverty industry, where even the good guys make a mint from social deprivation”. Having spent the majority of my working career in the third sector, in particular looking at social integration and philanthropic funding, this extract hit me hard. It is very easy to sit on the ‘good guys side’ and assume that because you have the best intentions your work by default must be good. McGarvey provided me personally, but also I hope the industry, with a timely reminder to check ourselves, and listen to those people we are supposedly helping – their voices are very important, if not THE most important.
There are a number of highly impactful moments in this book, the final one I will focus on is the tone/pace change in ‘The Cutting Room’. McGarvey cleverly turns the tables on their heads, swapping personal story, for story in facts. He shocks the audience, quite literally, by reducing his family to a set of statistics. I say reducing quite pointedly, because having read about them as humans first, trying to swallow the magnitude of numbers acts to completely dehumanise them; something the political class is guilty of on an almost daily basis.
“Poverty appears to be the definitive factor that dictates the direction of a person’s life from the very day that they are born”
‘Poverty Safari’ served to throw me a complete curve ball, and forced me to ask some soul searching questions about my privilege, prejudices, and position. This is a book that has not only added numerous items to my reading list, but one that I know I will return to on many an occasion. I believe if you only take one thing from reading this book it should be that the above quote is beyond not acceptable, and we all have a moral & social obligation to do something about it. We should not be alienating entire parts of our communities and making them feel voiceless, we need to listen, and we need to listen now.
‘Poverty Safari’ in Facts:
Author: Darren McGarvey (AKA Loki)
First Published: 2017
Publishing House: Luath Press Limited