Mary O'Hara is the author of the new book The Shame Game: Overturning the Toxic Poverty Narrative. A journalist focusing on social policy and social justice, she is based in Los Angeles.
Q: Why did you decide to write this book about poverty?
A: The book was born out of a wider project I founded call Project Twist-It, a multi-platform initiative to challenge the dominant narrative around poverty and to elevate the voices of people in poverty – who are usually marginalised, silenced and excluded.
I myself grew up in poverty and have been writing on this subject for many years, along with inequality and other inter-related social issues.
Q: You write that "every single day, people all over the US and the UK live with the gross injustice that is being poor and with the humiliation of being blamed for circumstances beyond their control. It doesn't have to be this way." How do you think the situation can change?
A: As outlined in the book and in Project Twist-It, this is a huge question that requires a multi-tiered approach across politics, society and the media and culture.
What I’m trying to do is A/ point out that vital role of the narrative in entrenching poverty and B/ argue that constructing an alternative narrative – a fact-based reality that harnesses the voices, experiences and insights of those with lived experience – is essential if we are to fight the scourge of poverty.
This means find a new story – a new way – to talk about poverty to build support for positive policy change.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: That to be poor is not the fault of the individual
That poverty can happen to anyone
That we can change the way we think and talk about poverty
That we can eradicate poverty and end the shame and stigma people endure
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am currently working on an article about the impact of Coronavirus on child poverty and am also working on updating the UK Samaritans’ media guidelines for journalists reporting on suicide and self-harm.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: If about me: I’m an author, journalist, Fulbright scholar and I grew up in poverty in Northern Ireland. I am also a podcast producer and contributor.
On poverty - I think it is absolutely vital that we elevate the voices of people with lived experience. Without empathy and understanding we won’t be able to build support to challenge the policies that keep people poor.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb