Poverty Safari

Poverty Safari


Understanding the Anger of Britain's Underclass

Darren McGarvey

ISBN: 9781912147038

Binding: paperback

Winner of the Orwell Prize 2018

Poverty Safari is now published by Picador in association with Luath Press. The title is available to order here.

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People from deprived communities all around Britain feel misunderstood and unheard. Darren McGarvey aka Loki gives voice to their feelings and concerns, and the anger that is spilling over. Anger he says we will have to get used to, unless things change.

He invites you to come on a safari of sorts. A Poverty Safari. But not the sort where the indigenous population is surveyed from a safe distance for a time, before the window on the community closes and everyone gradually forgets about it.

I know the hustle and bustle of high-rise life, the dark and dirty stairwells, the temperamental elevators that smell like urine and wet dog fur, the grumpy concierge, the apprehension you feel as you enter or leave the building, especially at night. I know that sense of being cut off from the world, despite having such a wonderful view of it through a window in the sky; that feeling of isolation, despite being surrounded by hundreds of other people above, below and either side of you. But most of all, I understand the sense that you are invisible, despite the fact that your community can be seen for miles around and is one of the most prominent features of the city skyline.


Nothing less than an intellectual and spiritual rehab manual for the progressive left.  Irvine Welsh

Part memoir, part polemic, this is a savage, wise and witty tour-de-force. An unflinching account of the realities of systemic poverty, Poverty Safari lays down challenges to both the left and right. It is hard to think of a more timely, powerful or necessary book.  J.K. Rowling

A blistering analysis of the issues facing the voiceless and the social mechanisms that hobble progress, all wrapped up in an unput-downable memoir.  Denise Mina

Raw, powerful and challenging.  Kezia Dugdale

A scan of the injuries poverty leaves in Britain, which manages to be humane, angry and wise all at the same time.  Nick Cohen

The ignorance class division fosters and 'our assumptions about the people on the other side of the divide' are Darren McGarvey’s themes. His Poverty Safari is one of the best accounts of working-class life I have read. McGarvey is a rarity: a working-class writer who has fought to make the middle-class world hear what he has to say.  Nick Cohen in The Guardian, 23rd September 2017

If The Road To Wigan Pier had been written by a Wigan miner and not an Etonian rebel, this is what might have been achieved. McGarvey's book takes you to the heart of what is wrong with the society free market capitalism has created.  Paul Mason

His book is a powerful polemic and details his own experiences of neglect and addiction growing up in a Glasgow ‘scheme’. It uses that element of memoir as bait, and then fearlessly critiques the received ways in which the ‘underclass’ has been characterised. Most arrestingly, McGarvey challenges the ways in which poverty has been tackled ineffectively by well-meaning liberals on the left, and neglected by the right. I strongly recommend it.  Shahidha Bari, senior lecturer in Romanticism at Queen Mary University of London

The book is not an easy read. It is a personal memoir about deprivation, abuse, violence, addiction, family breakdown, neglect and social isolation. But it is also a positive book, a book of hope and no little courage. At the same time, it contains both challenges to and insight for the competing ways in which both the political left and right view and seek to respond to poverty.  Adam Tomkins MSP

But what has made McGarvey such a particular figure of attention is his political message. As the old mainstream desperately seeks a response to Trump and Brexit, McGarvey, a life-long radical socialist, seems to offer an antidote to populist anger that transcends left and right. But his urgently written, articulate and emotional book is a bracing contribution to the debate about how to fix our broken politics.  Financial Times, December 2017

The man seems to be on his way to becoming one of the most compelling and original voices in Scotland’s, and maybe Britain’s, public debate. If Scotland’s underclass could speak in a single, articulate, authentic voice to communicate to the rest of us what it’s like to be poor, isolated, brutalised, lost, it would sound very much like this.  Chris Deerin, Daily Mail

Book group discussion notes:

  1. In the first chapter, Darren McGarvey describes holding a rap workshop in a prison. Why did the author choose to open with this experience and does it provide a suitable introduction to the book and its themes?

  2. Poverty Safari and Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting deal with issues of poverty, deprivation and addiction in different ways – Poverty Safari through memoir and Trainspotting in fiction. Which book provides more insight and/or is more realistic?

  3. Darren McGarvey very openly explores his own struggles with addictions. Could Poverty Safari be read as a guide on how to deal with addiction?

  4. To what extent does the book provide the ‘Poverty Safari’ promised by the title?

  5. Has Poverty Safari changed or challenged any of your presumptions regarding either Britain’s ‘underclass’ or middle class?

  6. Poverty Safari aims to give voice to deprived communities that have been ignored and left unheard. Does the book succeed in achieving this?

  7. Darren McGarvey describes the feeling of isolation; being cut off from the world; being invisible. How is this perception depicted in each chapter?

  8. Darren McGarvey analyses both prejudices towards him (and his roots) and his own prejudices about people from different backgrounds. How are the differences between these groups depicted, and could they change a reader’s perspective?

  9. Poverty Safari explores a lot of the author’s personal experiences: of his dysfunctional family, his alcoholic mother and violence experienced while growing up. In what ways is this book more than a memoir?

  10. In what ways does Poverty Safari provide starting points for political discussion that could lead to change? Are the topics discussed represented properly in politics and the media?

  11. In the fourth chapter, McGarvey describes an experience in which a group of children behaved around him as he has learned to do around potentially threatening people. How has this experience shaped the author’s judgment of certain situations?

  12. Throughout Poverty Safari, Darren McGarvey examines his own prejudices and flaws and explains the approaches he found useful in understanding and coping with chronic stress, eating disorders and addictions. How is this learning process manifested in his personal development and achievements?