Unreported Britain

The Orwell Prize, together with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), is delivering the Unreported Britain Project as one part of the work of the new JRF-sponsored Prize “The Orwell Prize for Exposing Britain’s Social Evils”. In 2015, Unreported Britain was published in The GuardianThe first story in the 2016 series was published in the Telegraph.

The Prize seeks out the new journalism that uses all of the media to tell important stories. It focuses on the journalism that is letting the public use and explore data about need for themselves: giving people access to the tools and evidence to make up their own minds.

The Unreported Britain project is intended to launch the debate – about what we don’t know and why we don’t know it. But also to reflect back to communities how they see themselves.

In 1936 George Orwell got on a train to Wigan. He wanted to find out what the economic depression was doing to people. Wigan, understandably perhaps, has never quite forgiven him for the way in which he put them on them map.  But if his work helped  mobilise a sense of shared responsibility for making living conditions better, it also energised the local communities he encountered. Before he set out on his journey Orwell wrote nearly a 900 letters, pestering local authorities for mortality figures, bothering employers for wage statistics, ransacking the health services (before the national health) for patterns of illness, demanding the price of sugar and what it cost to heat a house. He was finding the stories that were un-reported. Although The Road to Wigan Pier is brilliantly written – it stands on evidence.

That – however – was then. What are the new contours of want in 21st Century Britain? How do we know about them? As local media collapse communities do not even see their own particular stories reflected back to them – let alone brought to bear on policy makers in the distant metropolitan hub of Westminster. If we suffer from a democratic deficit, then that is shaped by a reporting deficit.

People are all too aware of the dangers of being stereotyped. They imagine new solutions to their predicament. The project also explores the separate problem – why we have not heard these stories. The new contour of want has a new kind of invisibility.

In 2015, Unreported Britain was published in The GuardianThe first story in the 2016 series was published in the Telegraph.

Unreported Britain is written by Stephen Armstrong, the author of The Road to Wigan Pier Revisited, with additional reporting by Maruxa Ruiz del Arbol.

Articles from Unreported Britain