How Duncan Smith misled MPs on child poverty

The Work and Pensions Secretary claimed that "child poverty rose" under Labour; it fell by 800,000.

Iain Duncan Smith has acquired a reputation for playing fast and loose with the facts and he was up to his tricks again at Work and Pensions Questions in the Commons this afternoon. Towards the end of the session, he declared that "child poverty rose" under the last government. But as so often, the data tells a different story. Under Labour, child poverty fell from 3.4m in 1997 to 2.6m in 2010, a net reduction of 800,000 and the lowest figure since the mid-1980s.

While child poverty has fallen under the coalition to 2.3m (largely due to the overall drop in average household incomes, which resulted in a relatively higher poverty threshold), it is projected to rise by 600,000 by 2015-16 as the government's welfare cuts take full effect. As the IFS has noted, "Despite the impact of universal credit, the overall impact of reforms introduced since April 2010 is to increase the level of income poverty in each and every year from 2010 to 2020." The forecast rise will reverse all of the reductions that took place under Labour between 2000-01 and 2010-11. Rather than slandering the last government, Duncan Smith would do well to turn his attention to that.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith speaks at the Conservative conference in Manchester last month. 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.