Lucy Meadows, trans teacher whose gender reassignment made news, found dead at home

The primary school teacher had returned to her school this term as a woman.

Primary school teacher Lucy Meadows has been found dead at her home in Accrington, Lancashire. The news was announced to pupils and parents on the school's website. Headteacher Karen Hardman wrote:

It is with great sadness that I have to inform you of the death of Miss Lucy Meadows. Our staff will be working closely with bereavement teams and are here to offer the children and yourselves any support in any way we can.

The Manchester Evening News reports that police and paramedics attended the address in Accrington on the evening of 19 March, and where the body of a 32-year-old woman was found. The death is not being treated as suspicious. An inquest will be held.

Meadows had only recently made her transition public - the school wrote to parents at Christmas to announce that staff member Nathan Upton would be returning to work after the break as a woman and was now to be addressed as Miss Meadows.

The news made several papers, including the Sun and the Mail. In the latter, columnist Richard Littlejohn - for whom transsexualism is a regular topic - argued in a piece published in December that Meadows's gender reassignment was too "challenging" for children to deal with. After news of Meadows's death broke, the online version of his column was edited to remove the item. However, it can still be read here.

While the circumstances around Meadows's death are not yet known, there has long been concern for the way gender reassignment is treated in the media. Writing for newstatesman.com's Trans Issues Week earlier this year, Jane Fae said:

You know progress has been made, when Richard Littlejohn, scourge of the politically correct, can be found writing relatively encouragingly about such matters. But. Ah yes: there’s always a but. While transphobia has become increasingly unacceptable, there remains that last line of reactionary defence: “just think of the children”.

The coverage of trans issues in the mainstream media remains far from perfect - a problem that was dealt with in admirable detail by Trans Media Watch's submission to the Leveson Inquiry (pdf).

For advice about the issues raised in this post, you can read more on the Samaritans website or contact them on 08457 90 90 90

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

Getty
Show Hide image

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.