It's easy to judge people less well off than yourself, to comment on why they might be on benefits, or to wonder why they spend money on cigarettes when they can barely feed themselves.
television screens are full of programmes about people living on the
breadline, but many of them (the programmes) present a one-sided, often
snide view. Linda Tirado's Hand to Mouth: The Truth About Being Poor in a Wealthy World
is the counterpoint to all those reality shows, offering intelligent,
well-thought out and firm arguments about why poor people are poor, and
how society is hard-wired to make it difficult for people to lift
themselves out of poverty.
book came about after she replied to a question on a forum asking why
poor people did things that seemed so self-destructive. Her response,
which is used in the introductory chapter of the book, took on a life of
its own, as people responded (well and badly).
In Hand to Mouth
Tirado expands on her arguments. She uses examples from her own life to
illustrate how poor people are maligned every day of their lives, and
how behaviour which passes without comment or judgement when wealthy
people do it is seen as terrible when a poor person partakes.
takes centre stage, with plenty of commentary about Tirado's past jobs
and the difficulties, and horrors, she suffered - from being
propositioned by bosses and customers, to the nightmare that is trying
to balance two (or four) jobs, none of which pay well and none of which
have bosses who will accommodate the other. From the off, Tirado quashes
the stereotype of poor people not wanting to work or being hard workers
- it's clear that she is not the exception when it comes to people in
poverty and their struggles with work.
of the most interesting chapters in the book was that about healthcare,
even though, as Brits, we are lucky enough to have the NHS at our
disposal and so don't have the same difficulties accessing healthcare as
Americans. Not only does Tirado talk about the expense of healthcare,
but she also takes it one step further and shows how a lack of
healthcare leads to things like not being able to get good jobs, which
spirals into not having enough money and so on. It's a connection I,
naively, never really thought about.
The best thing about Tirado's
book is the humour shown throughout, and the wonderful voice. Tirado is
not afraid to use the odd (sometimes more) swear word, or tell it like
it is, and that's refreshing. My favourite part of the book was towards
the end, when Tirado writes a letter to rich people, which is so on the
mark it's funny (I had a job where I sat through meetings like the ones
she describes and she's spot on).
Tirado's book doesn't have all
the answers, in fact, it's not really a book about answers. It's a book
about questions and about highlighting problems, and about trying to
make people understand. We all saw (and perhaps took part in) the Occupy
demonstrations, we've signed petitions against the cutting of legal aid
or against the bedroom tax, but it's only by reading a considered book
like Tirado's that I've come to have the slightest understanding of what
problems are faced by such a large number of people every day. Hand to Mouth is required reading for everyone.
How I got this book: From the publisher, Virago. This did not affect my review.