What would Beatrice Webb do? Essay winner announced

The New Statesman and Webb Memorial Trust award prize for the Poverty Index essay competition.

A team from the New Statesman joined representatives from The Webb Memorial Trust last Thursday to announce the winner of the Poverty Index Essay competition. The event took place in the august surroundings of the House of Commons and was attended by representatives from children's charities and guests from the world of politics.

The competition, designed to encourage young writers to engage with the issue of poverty, asked participants a set question on how Beatrice Webb, anti-poverty campaigner and co-founder of the New Statesman, would develop an index of poverty if she were alive today.

Mike Parker, Honorary Secretary of The Webb Memorial Trust, along with Jason Cowley, editor of the New Statesman, kicked-off proceedings by outlining a new five year collaboration between the Trust and the NS. Kate Green MP went on to praise the quality of the essays, adding that the legacy of Beatrice Webb and the issues she campaigned on are very much alive today. With the current government in power, she hastened to add, the issue was of particular concern.

John Hills, Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Ecomonics, went on to announce that Celia Goodburn, a recent Master's graduate, had won the runner-up prize. She received £500 and will have her essay published by the New Statesman. She said afterwards she was "extremely happy" adding that she "hoped her essay would help raise awareness."

The winner was announced as Anil Prashar, a 20-year-old economics student at the LSE. He received a £1000 prize and will also have his essay published. Anil said afterwards:

I didn't expect this. I'm a mathematician! I really had to explore the issues for myself. I know it's a bit of a cliché but I do hope I can make a difference. I find that my friends say things that bring me down. They hate poverty and the way the country is run. I say to them: you can change this.

Kate Green MP said of the winning essayists:

It was brilliant to see young people engaging and exploring the issue of poverty, putting effort to think through the arguments, developing new perspectives and thinking. The winning essays showed muscular thinking that was focused, exploratory and -- in a good way -- ruthless.

Mike Parker later added that the event was "fortuitously timed with all of the discussions over the summer's riots and recent comments from David Cameron and Ian Duncan Smith on the Poverty Index."

David Cameron was asked on ITV's Daybreak on 1 December about recent findings that 100,000 children would be forced below the poverty line because of the measures in George Osbourne's Autumn Statement. Cameron replied: "I think there is a real problem with the way we measure child poverty...it's done on relative poverty, if you increase the pension, that means more children are in poverty. I think that's illogical." You can read his claims fact-checked here.

The winning essays will be published online and in the New Statesman on 2 January. Below is an except from Anil's piece:

[Webb] helped create the ideas that were behind the welfare state and the universal healthcare system. In doing this she achieved the structural change she had intended and it is because of her efforts that the index suggested in this essay is so particular to the UK. Not many countries can boast being a welfare state, having universal healthcare and a minimum wage. If Webb were alive today to compile her own poverty index for the UK she would probably smile at how UK citizens can keep out of the workhouse and not worry about the Poor Laws, that is, before turning her attention to the problems of child poverty and social cohesion.

The full judging panel included Richard Rawes (chair Webb Memorial Trust), Jason Cowley (editor New Statesman), Baroness Ruth Lister, Kate Green MP, Chris White MP and Paul Hackett (director Smith Institute).

Photo credit: Sophia Schorr-Kon.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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