The Tory plan to punish low-paid workers for striking

Workers who go on strike will lose their tax credits.

While the eyes of the world were on Greece, the Conservatives quietly launched a new assault on workers' rights. Iain Duncan Smith announced that low-paid workers will lose their benefits if they go on the strike. Under the current system, workers on wages of £13,000 or less can claim tax credits. But under IDS's proposals, there will be no increase in benefits if a worker's income drops due to strike action. He said:

It is totally wrong that the current benefit system compensates workers and tops up their income when they go on strike. This is unfair to taxpayers and creates perverse incentives.

Striking is a choice, and in future benefit claimants will have to pay the price for that choice, as under universal credit, we no longer will.

It's hard to think of a more inappropriate attack on the right to strike. Low-paid workers (in this case, those on wages just over £13,000) are often those with the greatest cause to walk out. Indeed, as I've argued before, if ministers want to tackle Britain's substandard wages, they should encourage stronger, not weaker, trade unions. And as the TUC's head of economics, Nicola Smith, pointed out, since the money workers lose in pay while striking is "far more significant than the small amounts of top-ups they get through the tax credits system", it is also inaccurate of Duncan Smith to suggest that the current system "creates perserve incentives".

Labour has already spoken out against the plans, with shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne accusing Duncan Smith of "starving people back to work". But again, one asks, where are the Lib Dems?

Remploy factory workers demonstrate outside the Department for Work and Pensions. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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There are two sides to the Muslim segregation story

White families must also be prepared to have Muslim neighbours. 

Dame Louise Casey finally published her review on social integration in Britain. Although it mentions all communities, there is a clear focus on Muslim communities. However, the issues she raises - religious conservatism, segregation in some areas and Muslim women experiencing inequalities -  are not new. In this case, they have been placed in one report and discussed in the context of hindering integration. If we are truly committed to addressing these issues, though, we have a duty of care to discuss the findings with nuance, not take them out of context, as some tabloids have already done.

The review, for example, highlights that in some areas Muslims make up 85 per cent of the local population. This should not be interpreted to mean that Muslims are choosing to isolate themselves and not integrate. For a start, the review makes it clear that there are also certain areas in Britain that are predominantly Sikh, Hindu or Jewish.

Secondly, when migrants arrive in the UK, it is not unreasonable for them to gravitate towards people from similar cultural and faith backgrounds.  Later, they may choose to remain in these same areas due to convenience, such as being able to buy their own food, accessing their place of worship or being near elderly relatives.

However, very little, if any, attention is given to the role played by white families in creating segregated communities. These families moved out of such areas after the arrival of ethnic minorities. This isn't necessarily due to racism, but because such families are able to afford to move up the housing ladder. And when they do move, perhaps they feel more comfortable living with people of a similar background to themselves. Again, this is understandable, but it highlights that segregation is a two-way street. Such a phenomenon cannot be prevented or reversed unless white families are also willing to have Muslim neighbours. Is the government also prepared to have these difficult conversations?

Casey also mentions inequalities that are holding some Muslim women back, inequalities driven by misogyny, cultural abuses, not being able to speak English and the high numbers of Muslim women who are economically inactive. It’s true that the English language is a strong enabler of integration. It can help women engage better with their children, have access to services and the jobs market, and be better informed about their rights.

Nevertheless, we should remember that first-generation Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, who could not speak English, have proved perfectly able to bring up children now employed in a vast range of professions including politics, medicine, and the law. The cultural abuses mentioned in the review such as forced marriage, honour-based violence and female genital mutilation, are already being tackled by government. It would be more valuable to see the government challenge the hate crimes and discrimination regularly faced by Muslim women when trying to access public services and the jobs market. 

The review recommends an "Oath of Integration with British Values and Society" for immigrants on arrival. This raises the perennial question of what "British Values" are. The Casey review uses the list from the government’s counter-extremism strategy. In reality, the vast majority of individuals, regardless of faith or ethnic background, would agree to sign up to them.  The key challenge for any integration strategy is to persuade all groups to practice these values every day, rather than just getting immigrants to read them out once. 

Shaista Gohir is the chair of Muslim Women's Network UK, and Sophie Garner is the general secretary and a barrister.