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1 January 2019

The best of the New Statesman 2018: Society

From our decaying public realm to rising homelessness. 

By New Statesman

The cornerstone of the New Statesman’s coverage of social issues in 2018 was our crumbling Britain series, which focuses on the impact that a decade of austerity has had on the services and infrastructure that the UK’s citizens rely on. Another key focus was the shambolic rollout of Universal Credit, creating problems for thousands of people trying to get by. Here are some of our best pieces from the year.  

Crumbling Britain: Thousands like my elderly aunt suffer as the public realm decays

In April, our editor Jason Cowley kicked off our crumbling Britain series with a personal look at the experience of his aunt living in Harlow in Essex. Her local GP surgery was closed down after being taken over by a private GP practice.

“Having a younger partner is a crime”: Universal Credit “couple penalty” hits pensioners

Over the course of this year, it became clear that Universal Credit was severely affecting people in ways the government had failed to consider. One such example was flagged to us by a reader, who told Anoosh Chakelian how couples with one partner under pension age could lose up to £100 a week.

Do academics need pseudonyms to protect their freedom?

In November, a trio of academics announced they were setting up new journal in which articles would be published anonymously to protect authors from trenchant and sometimes aggressive criticism. The thinking behind the Journal of Controversial Ideas was that academia was no longer a safe space for those who wanted to handle ideas deemed beyond the pale by supposedly censorious students and university staff. But while Anoosh Chakelian found some sympathy for the project, others questioned whether it would simply enable attacks on marginalised groups while avoiding repercussions.   

The money diaries: how salacious stories of overdrafts replaced sex advice for millennials

Money diaries have become a staple of newspapers and websites in recent years, with readers lapping up stories about over or underspending. But, wrote Anoosh Chakelian, it’s a trend driven by our desire to judge people for how they live their lives.

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Crumbling Britain: The quiet decline of English courts

The impact of austerity has stretched beyond areas such as education and health into the justice system. As Patrick Maguire found out when he visited Buxton, court closures across the country are denying citizens access to justice.

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Why are councils collapsing?

Throughout 2018, Anoosh Chakelian carefully followed the wave of crises affecting local government as a result of swingeing cuts to their budgets. The most high-profile case was the collapse of Northamptonshire County Council, a Tory run authority that was forced to vote to scrap itself after declaring itself bankrupt in February.

Alfie’s Other Army: the parents and doctors defending Alder Hey Children’s Hospital

One of the year’s most high-profile stories was the case of Alfie Evans, a baby whose parents were fighting to stop doctors removing life support. While for many around the world the story was about cruel doctors denying a child care, Anoosh Chakelian spoke to the doctors, nurses and their supporters who were standing up for the medical professionals at Alder Hey Hospital.

“Not technically beautiful, she has an engaging laugh”: 35 years of being described by men

Tracey Thorn’s columns are much loved by New Statesman readers, but this year one in particular, about being described by male music journalists, hit a nerve. As Tracey wrote: “You miss things when you leave women out, or view female characters through the prism of their attractiveness”.

How to stop agitators such as Tommy Robinson exploiting child grooming trials

While the rise of Tommy Robinson was part of a broader resurgence of the far right, his own profile has been boosted by a focus on “asian grooming gangs”. As Helen Lewis wrote, Robinson was only able to capitalise on the issue because the British courts and press have not done enough to ensure that justice is seen to be done.

Why are we surprised Universal Credit hurts women? That was the plan, after all

In yet another example of the problems with Universal Credit, MPs complained in late October that the way in which Universal Credit is paid into one family bank account put women at risk of financially-controlling partners, effectively depriving them of the means to escape violent or abusive households. But as Anoosh Chakelian argued, the system’s “family first” approach was always set to penalise women.

Crumbling Britain: Lancashire’s lost world of deep-sea fishing

Fishing has had an outsized place in the British national debate, in particular in regards to the UK’s relationship with the EU. But as Patrick Maguire found out in Lancashire, even the museums dedicated to remembering a now decimated industry are kept open only by volunteers.

Crumbling Britain: the UK’s pothole plague is a sign of national decline

Compared to welfare cuts or service closures, potholes may seem a minor problem for the UK’s politicians. But as Anoosh Chakelian wrote, they are not just the most visible symbol of Britain’s crumbling public realm, but also a highly motivating issue that could go a long way to causing the downfall of the country’s leaders.

How London became a city where luxury flats sit empty and the homeless shiver in railway arches

From a marginal problem a decade ago to a nationwide crisis, homelessness moved up the agenda in 2018. Helen Lewis dug behind the visible manifestation of the UK’s failure to look after its most vulnerable to examine the country’s broken housing market.

“Austerity is over,” Philip Hammond promised. Not for rough sleepers it’s not

Lastly, in October, Jonn Elledge criticised the Chancellor’s budget for its failure to even engage with one of the most visible social crises currently shaming Britain: the return of rough sleeping.