Ed Miliband's "lost decade" speech will be planted firmly in the scare category

Labour leader will warn of a Japan-style crisis.

The government's economic plan is failing, and the UK faces a "lost decade", Ed Miliband will say in a speech in Birmingham today.

He will warn that the UK could go the way of Japan during the 1990s unless something is done to turn it around, and will argue that there's a way this can be done.

Japan never quite recovered from its burst bubble of 1989 - and the crisis brought its economy to a standstill for about 10 years, as it watched rivals China and South Korea expand. Miliband's message - which also will stress that Britain is in the slowest recovery for 100 years - is planted firmly in the scare category. It will also echo Vince Cable, who warned of a "lost decade" back in December.

In an interview with the Times Miliband said:

This Government is now leading Britain into that lost decade. They’re shrugging their shoulders. They have run out of ideas. They are resigned. It is One Nation Labour’s task to show people it does not have to be this way. Not promising overnight answers. Not promising that things will be easy.

He will also attempt to make a distinction between public faith in David Cameron and public faith in politics in general:

I know that however discredited, divided and damaging this Government is, I will not assume that their unpopularity will mean people turn to Labour. Indeed, many people will believe that the failure of this Government means they should give up on politics altogether.

...and lay the groundwork for rebuilding trust in Labour:

I have sought to understand why people left Labour. From banking regulation to immigration to Iraq, I have been clear about what we got wrong.

Miliband's alternative measures, he told the Times, will include an apprenticeship programme, reforming banks and the energy market, a 10p income tax, and a "real jobs guarantee" for the young. 

Ed Miliband. Photograph: Getty Images
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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.