Beatrice Webb, co-founder of the New Statesman.
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New Statesman and the Webb Memorial Trust Essay Competition

Essay competition run by the New Statesman and the Webb Memorial Trust. First prize: £1,000.

The Competition

All interested young people are invited to submit an essay of no more than 2,500 words answering the following question:

The question this year is;

How can business reduce poverty?

The deadline is 22 October 2014.

The winning essay will be published prominently in the New Statesman magazine and on our award-winning website at Christmas.

A first prize of £1,000 will be awarded to the winner. The runner-up will receive £500.

Entrants must be between 18 and 25 years of age.

The results will be announced at an awards reception in London in December (all those whose entries are shortlisted will be invited).


Please submit your entry to Roxanne Mashari at

Submitted entries will be judged by a panel including:

Richard Rawes (Chair, Webb Memorial Trust)

Jason Cowley (Editor, New Statesman)

Paul Hackett (Director, Smith Institute)

Lord Kinnock (Labour peer)

Kate Green MP (Chair, APPG Poverty)

More to be announced


The Webb Memorial Trust shares a rich history of collaboration with this magazine. Beatrice Webb co-founded the New Statesman in 1913 with her husband, Sidney Webb, the socialist campaigner who became a Labour MP in 1922. In recent years our associated ventures have included supplements tackling issues of poverty and inequality in the UK today, with contributions from leading think-tank directors, heads of charities and policymakers.

In February 2012 the New Statesman, supported by the trust, produced a 15-page policy report that questioned not whether the government should be tackling poverty, but how. Kate Green MP, Chris White MP, Andrew Harrop and Paul Hackett were among the advisers and legislators who made the case for a fairer society.

In March 2013 we produced a second supplement, which focused on the myths about poverty that are grabbing headlines. How accurate are the perceptions of “benefit scroungers” and what effects do these attitudes have on those living below the poverty line? Christian Guy, Kate Henderson, Alison Garnham, Deborah Hargreaves and others discussed low pay, in-work poverty and the social housing stigma, highlighting proactive projects that have made a difference.

This year we collaborated on a third supplement debating whether civil society rather than the state should be the driving force behind the alleviation of poverty. Kenny Imafidon, Ruth Lister, Max Wind-Cowie, Paul Bunyan and John Diamond all contributed ideas on wider society could do to have a real impact, independent of government.

Never has the work of the trust been more important. Tough economic conditions, rising use of zero hours contracts and cuts to the welfare state have put more people than ever at risk of living in poverty. The New Statesman is proud to be partnered with this great institution.

The two supplements can be downloaded from the New Statesman website at:





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Sunjeev Sahota’s The Year of the Runaways: a subtle study of “economic migration”

Sahota’s Man Booker-shortlisted novel goes to places we would all rather not think about.

This summer’s crisis has reinforced the ­distinction that is often made between refugees, who deserve sanctuary because they are fleeing from conflict, and “economic migrants”, those coming to Europe in pursuit of “the good life”, who must be repelled at any cost. The entire bureaucratic and punitive capacity of our immigration system is pitted against these ne’er-do-wells and their impudent aspirations.

Sunjeev Sahota’s fine second novel, The Year of the Runaways, now shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, takes a closer look at “economic migration”. Why do people – many of them educated, from loving families in peaceful communities – leave their old lives behind and come to Britain? Are they fleeing desperate circumstances or are they on the make? When they arrive here, do they find what they were looking for? Should we welcome them, or try to persuade them to stay at home? The book illuminates all of these questions while, much to its credit, offering no simple answers.

Sahota interweaves the stories of three people whose reasons for emigrating are as individual as they are. Both Avtar and Randeep are from Indian Sikh families that might be characterised as lower-middle-class. Avtar’s father has his own small business – a shawl shop – and Randeep’s father works for the government. Both boys are educated and Avtar, in particular, is smart and motivated. But with employment hard to come by and no social security net to fall back on, it doesn’t take much to make leaving the country seem like the only option. Avtar loses his job, his father’s business is failing and he has high hopes of earning enough to marry Lakhpreet, his girlfriend-on-the-sly. Randeep’s family’s finances fall apart after his father has a psychological breakdown; their only hope of maintaining a respectable lifestyle is for their eldest son to take his chances abroad.

For Tochi, the situation is very different. He is what used to be called an “untouchable” and, although people now use euphemisms (“scheduled”, or chamaar), the taboo remains as strong as ever. He comes to Britain not so much for financial reasons – although he is the poorest of the lot – but to escape the prejudice that killed his father, mother and pregnant sister.

Tying these disparate stories together is the book’s most intriguing character, Narinder, a British Sikh woman who comes to believe that it is her spiritual calling to rescue a desperate Indian by “visa marriage”. Narinder’s progress, from the very limited horizons for an obedient young woman to a greater sense of herself as an active participant in her destiny, reminded me of Nazneen, the protagonist in Monica Ali’s Brick Lane. But Narinder is a more thoughtful character and here the Hollywood-style journey of personal liberation is tempered by a recognition of the powerful bonds of tradition and family.

Once in Britain, Avtar, Randeep and Tochi enter a world of gangmasters, slum accommodation and zero job security, with an ever-present fear of “raids” by immigration officers. They work in fried chicken shops, down sewers, on building sites and cleaning nightclubs. Health care is off-limits for fear of immigration checks. Food is basic and the only charity comes from the gurdwara, or Sikh temple, which provides help in emergencies.

Avtar and Randeep struggle to send money back home while living in poverty and squalor that their families could barely imagine (at one point, Randeep notes with understandable bitterness that his mother has used his hard-earned contributions to buy herself a string of pearls). In the meantime, their desperation leads them to increasingly morally repellent behaviour, from selfishness to stealing and worse. Even if they do eventually find a measure of economic stability in Britain, they have done so at the cost of their better selves.

It has been pointed out that the novels on the Man Booker shortlist this year are even more depressing than usual and The Year of the Runaways certainly won’t have raised the laugh count. At times I had to put it down for a while, overwhelmed by tragedy after tragedy. It was the quality of Sahota’s prose and perceptions that brought me back. He is a wonderfully subtle writer who makes what he leaves unsaid as important as the words on the page. A wise and compassionate observer of humanity, he has gone to some dark places – places we would all rather not think about – to bring us this book. Whether we are prepared to extend a measure of his wisdom and compassion to real immigrants, in the real world, is another question.

“The Year of the Runaways” by Sunjeev Sahota is published by Picador (480pp, £14.99)

Alice O'Keeffe is an award-winning journalist and former arts editor of the New Statesman. She now works as a freelance writer and looks after two young children. You can find her on Twitter as @AliceOKeeffe.

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Isis