By Walter Brierley
Means-Test Man describes a week in the life of an unemployed Derbyshire miner. Set in the 1930s and written by a miner out of his own bitter experience, it was one of the most powerful and original novels of that decade. It is tragic that Walter Brierley’s portrayal should be highly topical in the 21st century as the number of jobless grows relentlessly.
“In 1939 the Daily Herald carried a piece by John G. O’Leary, the chief librarian for Dagenham, complaining about the state of public libraries. According to O’Leary, British libraries were failing to respond to ‘the unceasing demands’ of their working-class readers, for ‘novels with an economic and social background’. As examples of this sort of writing he cited Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Walter Brierley’s Means-Test Man.
Today this might seem an exaggerated comparison to make for Means-Test Man. Both the other two titles have become catch-phrases for their time, their authors well-known and they have been almost continuously in print since then. Brierley however, has been long since forgotten, his work long out of print, and still very difficult to find in libraries.
As this piece from the Herald shows however, Means-Test Man was clearly considered to have a status and importance in its time comparable to those more famous ‘modern classics’. The purpose of this reprinting of the novel is to show modern readers why this was, to make available again a novel that should never have been out of print, and to let readers make up their own minds why it has been for so long.”
Andy Croft from his Introduction