The Dissolution Honours

Four former defence ministers and Floella Benjamin are elevated to the House of Lords.

And through the round window, it's Lady Floella Benjamin. The actress and TV presenter, best known for her 14-year stint on the children's programme Playschool, has been honoured in the Dissolution Honours List for her work campaigning on education issues.

Benjamin is the founder of Touching Success, a charity that aims to link children with role models, and was a member of the Liberal Democrats' commission on primary education. She will sit in the House of Lords as a Lib Dem peer.

A few names had leaked out this morning, but the full list is now up on the Downing Street website. There are to be 55 new peers in all.

The list includes some predictable entries -- for instance, John Prescott and Michael Howard. (Incidentally, it is worth asking how his elevation to the Lords might affect Prescott's availability to make an effective party treasurer.)

Other former frontbenchers moving to the Lords include the former defence secretaries John Reid, Des Browne and John Hutton, the former chief secretary to the Treasury Paul Boateng and the former Northern Ireland first minister Ian Paisley.

Quentin Davies, another former minister of defence who crossed the floor from the Tories, will become a Labour peer. The former Metropolitan Police commisioner Sir Ian Blair, who was ousted shortly after Boris Johnson became Mayor of London, becomes a crossbench peer.

There are a few slightly more controversial political appointments, such as Michael Spicer, who until stepping down at the election chaired the 1922 Committee, and Sue Nye, the gatekeeper Gordon Brown blamed for his "Bigotgate" run-in with Gillian Duffy during the campaign in Rochdale. Anna Healy, a former adviser to Harriet Harman and wife of Jon Cruddas, also becomes a Labour peer.

The unions have their customary representation, with Margaret Wheeler of Unison and John Monks of the European TUC making an appearance. Single-issue campaigners, too, are present, with Helen Newlove, a campaigner against drink-related violence, and Deborah Stedman-Scott, chief executive of the employment charity Tomorrow's People, both becoming Tory peers.

But the prizes for the wackiest appointments most defintely go to Benjamin and Shireen Ritchie, grass-roots Tory campaigner and stepmother of Guy Ritchie, who was once interviewed in the Daily Mail about her love life as part of an article on "passionate pensioners".

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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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.