The Tories' shameful new ad campaign against "the scroungers"

New ad in marginal seats contrasts "hardworking families" with those "who won't work".

 

The Tories' new ad campaign (see above) is the party's most shameless attempt yet to turn "the strivers" against "the scroungers". The online ad will run in the 60 Conservative marginals where, as Labour has highlighted, the number of families receiving working tax credits is greater than the MP's majority. Since tax credits, like other working-age benefits, will only be increased by 1 per cent for the next three years (below the rate of inflation), Labour has accused the government of imposing a "strivers' tax". Sixty per cent of the real-terms cut to benefits will fall on working households and, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), the average one earner couple will be £534 a year worse off by 2015.

The Conservatives' response is the demagogic ad above, which asks, "Who do you think this government should be giving more support to? Hard-working families or people who won't work?", and includes an image of a "scrounger" with his feet up at home. The "support" mentioned by the ad is a reference to the planned increase in the personal allowance, which will rise by £1,335 to £9,440 from next April, benefiting basic rate taxpayers by up to £267.

But there are two reasons why the ad might prove less successful than the Tories hope. The first is that, as the IFS has confirmed, the average family will lose more from the cuts to tax credits and other benefits than it gains from the increase in the personal allowance. The second is that not all voters will accept the caricature of the unemployed presented by the ad. The majority of those without a job are desperately trying to find work (with little support from the government) and, in most cases, will have been employed and paid taxes for years before the recession. The number who choose benefits as a lifestyle is far smaller than ministers imagine.

For these reasons, among others, polls show that fewer voters than expected support Osborne's benefit cuts. Most notably, a MORI poll published on Thursday found that 69 per cent believe benefits should rise in line with inflation or more.

Chancellor and Conservative chief election strategist George Osborne. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of 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.