How likely does Cable think a double-dip recession is?

Vince Cable, Business Secretary, says “well below 50-50”; the Treasury says one in five.

Decca Aitkenhead's enjoyable interview with Vince Cable in today's Guardian includes this revealing exchange on the possibility of a double-dip recession:

The risk of a double-dip recession remains, he acknowledges, very real -- perhaps a little more so in his mind than the Treasury's. "As I recall," he says, "the government's own forecasting risk puts it at something like one in four, one in five." But asked for his own estimate, he says, "Well, you know, certainly well below 50-50," which sounds somewhat higher than one in five.

Like Nick Clegg's declaration that he had slept with "no more than 30" women, this is an answer that reveals far more than it intends to.

As Aitkenhead suggests, "well below 50-50" does sound rather higher than one in five. If we take into account that a cabinet minister quoted on the record is unlikely to suggest that a recession is probable, it's quite possible Cable thinks this is an underestimate.

It may be that he has studied the growing evidence of the risk of a double dip, long forecast by our economics columnist, David Blanchflower. Today's news that the recovery in the jobs market will stall this year is another sign of the trouble ahead.

To his credit, Kenneth Clarke has previously warned that a double-dip recession is "quite possible still" and that the coalition's cuts could damage growth. Let us hope that he and Cable are having words with George Osborne.

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.