Ten things you won’t hear about while the press navel-gazes about Leveson and regulation

News keeps happening, some of it quite important.

 

1. The Department for Work and Pensions has introduced emergency legislation to "protect the national economy" from a £130m payout to jobseekers deemed to have been unlawfully punished. The so-called “Poundland” ruling would potentially entitle thousands of people to financial rebates after the court of appeal declared that almost all of the government's "work-for-your-benefit" employment schemes were unlawful. The legislation is will come before the Commons tomorrow as the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill.

2. Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond, the Steubenville high school football players, were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old after a party in August last year. It’s become a national story in the US – a CNN reporter was accused of being a “rape apologist”

3.  The Public Accounts Committee have declared HMRC’s handling of taxpayers’ calls has been "unambitious and woefully inadequate”. HMRC received 79 million calls in 2011-12, but 20 million of these calls were not answered. On top of that, just last week HMRC announced it was to close all of its 281 enquiry centres in 2014. 

4. The inquest into the death in prison of a man convicted of stealing a gingerbread man during the riots in 2011 opens today. He died in Wandsworth prison in August 2011. He had a history of mental illness and physical problems, which his foster family say were not addressed by the prison.

5. BP is taking legal action to limit the compensation it has to pay to people affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The company says some of the claims being paid are "fictitious" and "absurd".

6. David Bowie is number one again, for the first time in twenty years.

7. Greek footballer Giorgos Katidis has been banned from playing for the national team for life after he made what's been called a Nazi salute after scoring the winning goal during a match on Saturday.

8. Another gang rape has taken place in India – five men have been arrested and two more suspects are wanted after a Swiss woman was attacked while camping with her husband in a forest on a cycling holiday.

9. There are fears that once the French withdraw from Mali next month, the remaining African forces wouldn’t be able to cope with a resurgent terror threat from al-Qaeda.

10. We’re not going to get spring until after Easter, apparently. What?

 

A navel to gaze upon. This one belongs to Rihanna. Photograph: Getty Images

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

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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.