What's so bad about fried chicken shops in Seoul and London?

Policy-makers in London and South Korea want to crack down on fried chicken shops, but for two very different reasons

Earlier this week, South Korean officials ordered that restaurant franchises are no longer allowed to open two restaurants within 800 metres of each other. Fried chicken restaurants are a particular target, because around 7,400 are opened in the country every year.

The sharp rise in the number of fried chicken shops has been worrying officials in London too. There are 8,000 fast food outlets in the capital, or one for every 1,000 people, and fried chicken shops are especially popular. In the London Borough of Newham, for instance, there are over 70 chicken shops. Our chicken shop mania has even inspired an unimaginatively named (but genuinely inspired) documentary, The Fried Chicken Shop.

In November 2012 last year the Mayor of London Boris Johnson called on local authorities to help curb Londoners’ appetite for fast food, and around the country some local authorities are trying to clamp down on fast food shops serving school children on their lunch breaks.

Boris Johnson's primary concern is Londoners’ expanding waist lines and poor health, while in South Korea the bigger problem is economic. Every year in South Korea around 5,000 chicken shops go out of business, which policy-makers fear is contributing to the country’s rising household debt. In contrast, Londoners’ appetite for fried chicken is seemingly (and dangerously) limitless – you regularly see two fried chicken shops within metres of one another, and both seem to doing a roaring trade. Our love for fatty foods means the UK's fast food industry contributes around £4bn a year to the national economy. South Korean fried chicken-eaters just can't keep up with UK appetites, which is good for national health, but bad for the economy.

As The Economist points out this week, whether fried or roasted, chicken consumption can tell us something about the state of the global economy. Around the world, chicken consumption is growing 2.5 per cent a year and is predicted to overtake pork as the most popular meat. This is because as emerging economies become wealthier, more families are able to afford meat, and, as the cheapest meat, chicken is the most popular choice.

In developing countries increased chicken consumption is consequently a positive economic indicator, but in the UK this is less obviously the case. Taste and ability to soak up alcohol aside, the relative cheapness of chicken helps explains the rising popularity of fried chicken shops in the UK at a time when household budgets are shrinking.

 

A fried chicken outlet near Lewisham high street. Photo:Getty

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at 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.