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9 December 2011updated 26 Sep 2015 9:16pm

What would Beatrice Webb do? Essay winner announced

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

By Mark Jenner

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.”

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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:

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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.