Why Cameron is wrong about "Indian dance" classes

The PM has again displayed his ignorance.

After Boris Johnson called for the reinstatement of the two-hours-a-week school sports target (indeed, he suggested that children do two hours of sport a day), David Cameron has again taken to the airwaves to defend its abolition. This time, he complained that "a lot of schools were meeting that [the target] by doing things like Indian dance or whatever, that you and I probably wouldn't think of as sport, so there's a danger of thinking all you need is money and a target."

But this Daily Mail-style argument from anecdote (does Cameron actually know of any schools that teach Indian dance? And what if they did? For the sport averse, dance is an excellent form of exercise)  is unsupported by evidence. As Philip Collins notes in his typically excellent Times column (£):

The school sport survey, carried out by the Department for Education, shows that in 2009-10 nine out of ten children were doing at least two hours of sport a week. The vast majority of this activity was competitive. Half of all pupils played for their school against another school. Of course, the more competitive that sport truly is, the more it excludes people who are no good. The objective that sport should be competitive cuts across the objective that all should join in. But, in any case, for the slower, weaker and lower, 99 per cent of all schools had a sports day.

In other words, there is no evidence that the two-hours-a-week target was having unintended consequences. To the contrary, it ensured that the majority of children enjoyed a reasonable level of activity. As so often, Cameron's decision to scrap the target was not based on evidence but ideological prejudice.

David Cameron complained that a lot of schools were "doing things like Indian dance or whatever". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.