‘Broke’ reviewed: A programme for government, needed urgently

This new essay collection goes well beyond faceless statistics—to put names and places on Britain’s poverty crisis
May 10, 2023
Broke: Fixing Britain’s Poverty Crisis
Tom Clark (RRP: £14.99)
Buy on Bookshop.org
Buy on Bookshop.org

There is a gulf in our understanding of British poverty today. Only those who have experienced it—the daily pressures and indignities—can truly know what it is like. Those who haven’t, the fortunate rest of us, can’t.

Broke, a new collection of essays organised by Prospect’s former editor Tom Clark, sets out to close that divide—and comes as near to doing so as any book could. 

Its power is in its prose. The essays are by gifted writers, including Cal Flyn, Dani Garavelli and Daniel Trilling, and each explores a different aspect of the crisis, from food costs to indebtedness. Places are visited, people are spoken to, experiences shared. We come to know Sophie, the foodbank volunteer who became a foodbank user; Mary, a 20-year resident of the UK who has spent most of that time fighting to resolve her immigration status and for a place to sleep; and many others.

The perspective goes far beyond faceless statistics, though those statistics are provided too, as are potential policy solutions. Broke takes all approaches to a horrible truth: poverty is rising fast and now encompasses many who, from the outside, appear to have stable jobs and settled lives. 

Perhaps the thing that stands out most is the terrible latticework nature of poverty. Rising food prices mean less money for heating, which means worsening physical and mental health, which means diminishing opportunities to work—and so on and so on, all over again. In this way, each of the essays interweaves with the others. There is no single problem for the poor in Britain.

Which makes the situation as intractable as it is pervasive. Where to begin? Politicians could do worse than putting Broke on their bedside tables. In its pages is a programme for government, needed urgently.