When you leave poverty in the past, your life becomes difficult to retrace
Ahead of her session at Scotland's Housing Festival on 4 March, author Cash Carraway's guest blog gives a taste of her experiences and what led her to write Skint Estate.
In front of me sits a box filled with artifacts of my past life; an electricity meter top-up card, a payday loan repayment plan and the guarantee for a BrightHouse washing machine. There are documents: medical reports, hospital notes, jobcentre appointments, coupons and vouchers. This box of stuff, it contains absolutely nothing of worth and the vague memories they trigger leave me cold. Why would I hoard such pointless pieces of tat? They are the remains of a life I neither want nor understand; the debris of 39 years, 48 homes and a symbol of desperate search for a life to begin.
Why can’t I throw these sad reminders of my past away?
Since the age of 15 I’ve lived in 48 ‘homes.’ In 2017 me and my daughter moved 15 times.
Poverty is a series of rootless events lived through a fug of instinctive wit and constant confusion. It is invisible (because-you-made-it-so) but it is also embarrassingly loud like the drunk aunt at a wedding getting off with the best man’s brother as her husband watches on with a painful shame. It a ‘visceral’ experience, within the pressure to survive there no time or space to intellectualise your situation.
But having recently left poverty behind I can for the first time ask myself the questions I never had the headspace to consider: what is it really like living in poverty and what part does housing play in eradicating poverty in the UK?
When I was working on my book Skint Estate I was living in extreme poverty. The food bank I was writing about wasn’t a shameful memory of a difficult past – it was the place I went to collect the tins to fuel my words. In the final chapter of Skint Estate where I talk about the life or death decisions we make on the poverty line; whether if my daughter got sick would I dial 999 or order a taxi from our rural ghetto 15 miles of country roads away from a hospital? I wrote it as my daughter lay in a hospital bed with tubes in her arm filling her with the lifesaving drugs we’d got to the hospital in time for. I’d opted for the taxi.
And when I started writing my play Refuge Woman: Live Poverty Porn we were living in a safe house where the view from our room was the recently burnt shell of Grenfell Tower. On the week we started touring the play - I was living in a homeless shelter…
How can you think, let alone ask clear questions and find solutions whilst living through a series of abrasive moments such as these?
I have experienced the housing crisis first-hand. Yet is only from a place of safety and stability; my beautiful home in west London - with the heating is on and the fridge full and the walls tastefully covered in carefully selected vintage paper, safe in the knowledge that if I ever move from this property it will be my choice - that I can even begin to exam the torturous nature of precarity and the importance of a place to call home.
My poverty isn’t that far in the distance; three years ago I was living in a women’s refuge. Two years ago in a homeless shelter and just this time last year was living in a rural council flat having been socially cleansed miles from my hometown. I’ve left poverty behind now, but I only moved back to London and handed in my social housing tenancy back in September 2019. And I’ve quickly learnt that money and stability allow you to swiftly move on from the struggle of the past and give you the opportunity to forget it ever existed. That is why I am holding onto this box of useless underclass junk -I want to clearly remember and study what happened so we can help to remedy the current crisis.
So, I come to Scotland Housing Festival retracing my recent past, shakily gathering up the truths my mind campaigned so hard for me to forget but wanting to speak up about these experiences in the hope they might provoke policy changes leading to stability for all.