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The Social Distance Between Us: How Remote Politics Wrecked Britain

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Having now had over 20 years of direct Scottish control over virtually every issue that the author raises, his silence on any aspect of Scottish administration speaks more loudly than any of the other words in the book. It is in his castigation of middle-class people that McGarvey is most challenging. His dismissal of their woolly liberalism, and their distance from the grinding reality of poverty, is full of sweeping generalisations. But maybe that’s the point. Working-class people face sweeping generalisations all the time. Maybe he is holding a mirror up to middle-class prejudices, and we just don’t like our own reflection. Appropriately enough, The Social Distanc e Between Us feels like a huge and sometimes onerous book. McGarvey divides it into three “acts” and begins with 11 chapters that cover homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, the treatment of immigrants, land ownership, the benefits system and much more. His freewheeling writing style sometimes feels too digressive – one minute he’s explaining the Peasants Revolt of 1381, the next he’s on to the appeals system used by the latter-day Department for Work and Pensions. He occasionally tumbles into suggestions of a stark divide between working-class angels and toffee-nosed villains, as when he makes the improbable claim that imperialism, racism and sexism were “all ideas either dreamed up or imported from overseas by highly educated, sophisticated and wealthy individuals”. Given that his primary focus is Scotland and his past criticisms of the SNP, there is also a noticeable reluctance to pin any blame for the issues he explores on 15 years of government by that party, which, despite Nicola Sturgeon’s impeccable working-class credentials, has failed to get to grips with Scotland’s howling inequalities (and, for that matter, the country’s huge issues with addiction and drug-related deaths). McGarvey asks potent questions about the links between our school systems and a low-end labour market millions of us are only too happy to take advantage of Charting a route through many inequalities in society, McGarvey's argument is deceptively simple- that the social distance we think of now from Covid is only a more modern version of what has been happening societally for centuries, namely that the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable in society are almost never seen by those on the other end of fortune.

But I was able to be downwardly mobile precisely because of my education. Although I hated school, I loved learning, and was good at English, French, Biology and German. This meant that I could sustain myself morally and intellectually. A troubling tale of disaffection between classes in Britain – it's resolute in its class-based analysis, despite how out of fashion that is, and after reading this book it's difficult to disagree. That makes it an uncomfortable read for any middle-class person, since it's the middle class who takes the brunt of Garvey's assignment of blame. By allowing the working class to be demonised, and by allowing the creation of a benefits and support environment at least as "hostile" as that facing immigrants, the stage has been set for a breach between people that allows everyone to be manipulated by those in power. Why are the rich getting richer while the poor only get poorer? How is it possible that in a wealthy, civilised democracy cruelty and inequality are perpetuated by our own public services? And how come, if all the best people are in all the top jobs, Britain is such an unmitigated bin fire? My main issue is this. As an immigrant myself and from own experience Britain's concept of poverty seems to be through the a capitalist lense, excessive materialism and consumerism.Possibly an uncomfortable read for the mandarins in British politics, but that's exactly the reason this book should be taken seriously. Overall I felt like it was trying to cover too much ground, and ended up being a bit scattergun. The second half of the book was more interesting and it was strongest when debating the ideas of class in British society. found there were four times more prescriptions for strong opioids dispensed to people in the most deprived areas, than those in the most affluent areas." Towards the end, he worries success will blunt his firebrand tendencies. But then he provides a manifesto for transforming Britain that includes the abolition of fee-paying schools and the strengthening of trade unions, and it’s clear his enduring radicalism is a given. There are aspects of this book that have stayed with me since reading it, there are parts which I read that made me immediately recommend it to friends who have either educated me on social disparity and those unrepresented in the political forum in England/United Kingdom.

The RRP is the suggested or Recommended Retail Price of a product, set by the publisher or manufacturer. If this book doesn’t make you angry, you need to have a good look at yourself. I was seething, crying, astonished, flabbergasted… Mr McGarvey tells the story of Britain and inequality by slapping you round the face with research, statistics, anecdotes, and personal stories. But this is not a polemic. He doesn’t ‘hate’ rich people and they do feature in the book. He just shows us very clearly why we are in our current mess. And why if you have a system that can profit from misery, then the system won’t really want it to stop. Ugaz’s case is all too familiar in Peru, where powerful groups regularly use the courts to silence journalists by fabricating criminal allegations against them.’ D arren McGarvey’s The Social Distance Between Us is a wake-up call for Britain. It isn’t always an easy or comfortable read and there are some flaws, but overall it is an eloquent, forceful and much-needed exposé of what McGarvey calls ‘the fundamental scandal of British society’ – the fact that we have become such an unequal society and that too few people seem to know or care about it. Something that Darren did not point out: for the most excluded and socially-deprived, intellectually-unstimulated kids, the very set-up, the very classroom of a school, the very accent of a teacher can intimidate them into "stupidity" and refusal to learn.

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As I steadily plod on in years, the number of experiences I've had that reflects Darrens commentary or insight similarly grows. I've seen first hand the effects that Darren discusses in his book, not least due to living in similar communities but also in working in the homelessness sector in Scotlands biggest city. He absolutely hits the nail on the head with this commentary and explains valuable and thought provoking concepts in an incredibly real and expressive manner. I found myself saying 'Exactly!' out loud several times in agreement with his, and other folks, observations. All this autobiography is trotted out because I (rather like George Orwell, I suppose) grew up with middle-class attitudes and had to shed them one by one. I had that choice. I have had "the poor" (alcoholic, hopeless, queer) in my house, and I have seen how humiliated they are - and how frightened of every agency of the state. Northern Ireland had a Dole and Remittance Economy (with almost 25% unemployment weighted against Catholics), and I bore no stigma for being designated Unemployable - probably because I was "well-spoken"! Join Orwell prize-winning author, BAFTA nominated broadcaster and celebrated hip-hop artist Darren McGarvey for his new show centred on his recent book, The Social Distance Between Us. In it Darren confronts the scandal of class inequality with passion, humility and a dose of humour. There are stories of people leaving rehab early because they’ll lose their home - the state won’t pay rent and rehab. People having their benefits stopped because they’re late to an appointment with no discretion - one man was trying to help his suicidal sister…

During those ten years, I was paid shitty wages to form a bridge between the people I’d grown up amongst, and the people I wanted to become. I had aspirations of management, of rising within the industry and getting a decent wage. But I couldn’t lose sight of the fact that I was quite literally the only person who “got” where the more difficult tenants were coming from. I was promoted to the point that all I was used for was sorting out conflict and complaint for every contract across the region. Every time, I was seen by both parties as the representative of the “other” side.I am middle-class. I was sent against my will to a government-funded, fee-paying school which I hated. I was dragged reluctantly along the conveyor belt to a minor university. I dropped out. I started to hate the middle class and everything it stood for. So I left it. I became a class-refugee, 'déclassé' as we snooty class-refugees would term it. This was the mid-sixties. I got a job as a gardener at a Stately Home. I was fired because my bean-rows weren't straight. I 'signed on the dole'. I never worked again. Now, thanks to the EU I get an Old Person's dole (900 euros a month) from the French state.

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