MPC prepared to overlook "period of above-target inflation"

Bank of England dashes hopes of the inflation hawks.

The Bank of England's monthly inflation report confirms that its Monetary Policy Committee is heeding the advice of incoming governor Mark Carney and accepting an "overshoot" of inflation.

Speaking to MPs last week, Carney had confirmed he favoured a flexible inflation target. While he isn't convinced scrapping the target entirely "is a risk worth taking", he stated that he accepts the need for a bit of lee-way on the price target while growth is still below trend.

Today's report from the MPC backs up that argument. The Bank writes:

As long as domestic cost and price pressures remained consistent with inflation returning to the target in the medium term, it was appropriate to look through the temporary, albeit protracted, period of above-target inflation.

Attempting to bring inflation back to the target sooner by removing the current policy stimulus more quickly than currently anticipated by financial markets would risk derailing the recovery and undershooting the inflation target in the medium term.

The MPC’s remit is to deliver price stability, but to do so in a way that avoids undesirable volatility in output.

The key reason for the bank's decision is that it doesn't see GDP increasing quick enough, soon enough, to clamp down on inflation in a way which may damage growth. It predicts GDP returning to positive annual increases, but only reaching 2 per cent annual growth — the barest which could be described as acceptable — in the second quarter of 2014. It also sees a high possibility, although still below 50 per cent, of a contraction in the second quarter of 2013:

As a result, the loosening of the inflation target sans that the bank now doesn't see the rate returning to its two per cent target until 2015:

The news sent the pound down against all major currencies:

But the greater tolerance of inflation only goes so far. The MPC gave no indication that it was inclined to increase quantitative easing, typically seen as a trade-off between growth and inflation in a demand-constrained economy. Whether that means the MPC thinks demand is no longer constrained, or whether its tolerance has limits, remains unclear.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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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.