ONS: British economy grew by 0.6 per cent in last quarter

An end to the slump?

The ONS has announced that the British economy grew by 0.6 per cent in the last quarter, sparking suggestions that the economy may be coming out of its slump. It compares favourably to the mini-slump (no longer a double-dip recession) the country was in this time last year, and is the third best quarter Britain has seen since the recession.

Source: ONS

There had been indications that good news was in the offing for a while; at the beginning of the month, a string of positive economic data was released, and with no bank holidays, adverse weather, national events, or anything else to depress the figures, that seems to have held up. But "good news" is relative. The economy remains 3.3 per cent below its 2008 peak:

Source: ONS

The failure to bring the economy back to where it was pre-recession lies almost entirely on the back of the Government. A recent study estimating the effects of austerity on growth found that GDP was 3 per cent lower than it would have been if the Chancellor hadn't attempted to slash the state. That difference works out to £3,500 for every household in the country.

The ONS breaks down the contributions to the figure:

  • All four main industrial groupings within the economy (agriculture, production, construction and services) increased in Q2 2013 compared with Q1 2013.
  • The largest contribution to Q2 2013 GDP growth came from services; these industries increased by 0.6% contributing 0.48 percentage points to the 0.6% increase in GDP.
  • There was also an upward contribution (0.08 percentage points) from production; these industries rose by 0.6%, with manufacturing increasing by 0.4% following negative growth of 0.2% in Q1 2013.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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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.