No fault dismissal plans face growing opposition

Challenges to the proposal come from Cable, Heseltine, and potentially the courts.

What will kickstart growth in the British economy? Well, apparently making it easier to sack people, if the government's policy moves are anything to go by. But plans to allow no fault dismissal for small companies appears to be a step too far, causing considerable discomfort both within the coalition and amongst the public.

Now, the Business Secretary Vince Cable has said he will work with Lord Heseltine, the Conservative former deputy prime minister, to block the bill.

The plans, proposed in a report by venture capitalist Adam Beecroft, would make it easier for firms to sack people without explanation, on the basis that this will encourage them to hire more people. While the Liberal Democrats are reportedly completely opposed to the idea, under strong pressure from Downing Street, Cable was forced to agree to a consultation on introducing the rule for small companies (of ten people or fewer).

While limiting the measure to micro-companies waters down Beecroft's original proposal, the logic is still flawed -- as self-made millionaire Heseltine argued on the Politics Show on Sunday:

When you start talking about enabling people to sack people, well, I have two observations. The first is this, the sort of companies that I understand don't sit there saying, "by golly, we've got to be able to get rid of people, so therefore we mustn't invest because the risks are too high". If you're really an enterprising business, you invest because you think it's going to be a success. You may have to readjust but you can do that, as quite obviously is happening right through industry as significant numbers of people are being laid off.

This intervention from Heseltine, a Tory party grandee who is currently advising Cameron and Nick Clegg on growth, adds weight to the argument and prevents it from being another Lib Dem/Tory spat -- as Cable has clearly noted. At the launch of the reform to employment law, the Business Secretary said:

There were some very helpful comments from Lord Heseltine, one of my very distinguished conservative predecessors, you know warning about the dangers of creating a fear of dismissal and I'm very responsive to the advice I get from him.

Meanwhile, the Times (£) reports today that yet another challenge to the bill could come through the courts. According to senior lawyers, women are more likely to work for small companies, so there is a case that this would amount to indirect gender discrimination.

While it is clear that this bill will not have an easy passage, it is worth remembering that although this is one of the most extreme, it is not the only move against workers' rights. A series of deregulatory measures are not being consulted on, as they have already been accepted by government. These include increasing the qualifying period for unfair dismissals from one year of employment to two, and requiring those who take their employer to industrial tribunals to pay an initial deposit of £250, and a further £1,000 is a hearing is granted.

It is difficult to see how, in this unstable economic climate, further eroding job security will have any beneficial effect.

 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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There is nothing compassionate about Britain’s Dickensian tolerance of begging

I was called “heartless” for urging police to refer beggars to support services. But funding drug habits to salve a liberal conscience is the truly cruel approach.

In Rochdale, like many other towns across the country, we’re working hard to support small businesses and make our high streets inviting places for people to visit. So it doesn’t help when growing numbers of aggressive street beggars are becoming a regular fixture on the streets, accosting shoppers.

I’ve raised this with the police on several occasions now and when I tweeted that they needed to enforce laws preventing begging and refer them to appropriate services, all hell broke loose on social media. I was condemned as heartless, evil and, of course, the favourite insult of all left-wing trolls, “a Tory”.

An article in the Guardian supported this knee-jerk consensus that I was a typically out-of-touch politician who didn’t understand the underlying reasons for begging and accused me of being “misguided” and showing “open disdain” for the poor. 

The problem is, this isn’t true, as I know plenty about begging.

Before I became an MP, I worked as a researcher for The Big Issue and went on to set up a social research company that carried out significant research on street begging, including a major report that was published by the homeless charity, Crisis.

When I worked at The Big Issue, the strapline on the magazine used to say: “Working not Begging”. This encapsulated its philosophy of dignity in work and empowering people to help themselves. I’ve seen many people’s lives transformed through the work of The Big Issue, but I’ve never seen one person’s life transformed by thrusting small change at them as they beg in the street.

The Big Issue’s founder, John Bird, has argued this position very eloquently over the years. Giving to beggars helps no one, he says. “On the contrary, it locks the beggar in a downward spiral of abject dependency and victimhood, where all self-respect, honesty and hope are lost.”

Even though he’s now doing great work in the House of Lords, much of Bird’s transformative zeal is lost on politicians. Too many on the right have no interest in helping the poor, while too many on the left are more interested in easing their conscience than grappling with the hard solutions required to turn chaotic lives around.

But a good starting point is always to examine the facts.

The Labour leader of Manchester City Council, Richard Leese, has cited evidence that suggests that 80 per cent of street beggars in Manchester are not homeless. And national police figures have shown that fewer than one in five people arrested for begging are homeless.

Further research overwhelmingly shows the most powerful motivating force behind begging is to fund drug addiction. The homeless charity, Thames Reach, estimates that 80 per cent of beggars in London do so to support a drug habit, particularly crack cocaine and heroin, while drug-testing figures by the Metropolitan Police on beggars indicated that between 70 and 80 per cent tested positive for Class A drugs.

It’s important to distinguish that homelessness and begging can be very different sets of circumstances. As Thames Reach puts it, “most rough sleepers don’t beg and most beggars aren’t rough sleepers”.

And this is why they often require different solutions.

In the case of begging, breaking a chaotic drug dependency is hard and the important first step is arrest referral – ie. the police referring beggars on to specialised support services.  The police approach to begging is inconsistent – with action often only coming after local pressure. For example, when West Midlands Police received over 1,000 complaints about street begging, a crackdown was launched. This is not the case everywhere, but only the police have the power to pick beggars up and start a process that can turn their lives around.

With drug-related deaths hitting record levels in England and Wales in recent years, combined with cuts to drug addiction services and a nine per cent cut to local authority health budgets over the next three years, all the conditions are in place for things to get a lot worse.

This week there will be an important homelessness debate in Parliament, as Bob Blackman MP's Homelessness Reduction Bill is due to come back before the House of Commons for report stage. This is welcome legislation, but until we start to properly distinguish the unique set of problems and needs that beggars have, I fear begging on the streets will increase.

Eighteen years ago, I was involved in a report called Drugs at the Sharp End, which called on the government to urgently review its drug strategy. Its findings were presented to the government’s drugs czar Keith Hellawell on Newsnight and there was a sense that the penny was finally dropping.

I feel we’ve gone backwards since then. Not just in the progress that has been undone through services being cut, but also in terms of general attitudes towards begging.

A Dickensian tolerance of begging demonstrates an appalling Victorian attitude that has no place in 21st century Britain. Do we really think it’s acceptable for our fellow citizens to live as beggars with no real way out? And well-meaning displays of “compassion” are losing touch with pragmatic policy. This well-intentioned approach is starting to become symptomatic of the shallow, placard-waving gesture politics of the left, which helps no one and has no connection to meaningful action.

If we’re going make sure begging has no place in modern Britain, then we can’t let misguided sentiment get in the way of a genuine drive to transform lives through evidenced-based effective policy.

Simon Danczuk is MP for Rochdale.