BOOK REVIEW: Skint Estate by Cash Carraway

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5/5 stars

The discourse around austerity has been happening for the better part of a decade now–since David Cameron’s ascent to power in 2010 and the subsequent Tory governments after him, Britain has been operating on a drive to “trim the fat” from public services, even, as Cash Carraway’s Skint Estate proves, to the bone.

Carraway is the ultimate Tory demon: a single mother living on benefits in London. The ‘welfare queen’ misconstruction has gone transatlantic, and Carraway found herself fighting for survival in a women’s refuge in 2010, pregnant by an abusive boyfriend and struggling to find honest work. Because electoral registers are public record in the UK, Carraway had to choose between registering to vote and risking her abuser finding her, and letting her voice go unheard but keeping herself safe. This began a decade-long quest to find her voice, and Skint Estate emerges as essential reading for everyone in the UK–especially those questioning why poor people can’t “just get a job”.

Skint Estate exposes how the system is stacked against the poor, from climbing late fees to council house systems that move the poor every six months across the city, or even further out to the suburbs, with little chance to set down roots or build a support network. Carraway found sex work to be one of the only avenues open to her for consistent money, but still relied on housing benefits and food banks. In fact, over 75% of those on housing benefits are in employment–and yet The Daily Mail keeps running headlines presuming benefit claimers are “leeching” off the state, and promoting damaging ideas that single parents never wanted their children. The love between Carraway and her daughter is so clear and heartwarming.

One of the most harrowing sections of this book is Carraway recounting her experiences in a financially coercive relationship–living with a friend who had a massive London mansion and initially seemed like a dream come true for her and her daughter. The relationship became abusive later on, and Carraway was forced to flee, learning how hard it can be to get out of a bad situation when getting out requires a lot of liquid assets. When you’re backed into a corner and can’t find a single landlord willing to rent to someone on DSS, what else can you do but accept a spare room you can get for free if you agree to share a bed (and probably more) with your flatmate?

Skint Estate is due to become a TV series soon, and I can’t wait to see Carraway’s experiences on the screen (Billie Piper is attached, which is pretty much guaranteed to make it a knockout too). If you live in the UK, you need to read this book–it is so necessary and vital to understanding the experiences of the poor in this country.

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