George Osborne: driving the country to further austerity. Photo: Getty
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Autumn Statement 2014 fallout: 60 per cent of cuts still to come

The main lesson to take from George Osborne's pre-budget announcements this week is that the worst of austerity is yet to come.

Following the Chancellor's Autumn Statement, which included some disappointing borrowing figures and confirmed that he had missed his deficit target, sees some worrying fallout today. Both worrying for the Conservatives politically and worrying for the future of the country's public services.

The Office of Budget Responsibility, in response to George Osborne's announcements, predicts that £14.5bn further cuts will need to be made to Whitehall departments by the end of the decade by the next government. The spending watchdog warns that 60 per cent of cuts are still to come in the next parliament, in spite of David Cameron's prediction that his government would have overseen 80 per cent of cuts by next year.

If the situation plays out as the OBR has warned, then our overall reductions could leave public spending at its lowest level since the 1930s, as a proportion of GDP. It also warns of a loss of 1m public sector jobs by 2020. 

Osborne is clearly rattled by this forecast. Being grilled on it on the BBC's Today programme this morning, he ended up snapping that he rejects the, "totally hyperbolic BBC coverage of spending reductions", comparing the broadcaster's coverage to its narrative in 2010 on spending cuts.

He admitted on the deficit: "I would loved to have gone further in this parliament, but we have been hit with all sorts of economic storms". He also acknowledged the tough cuts required in the future, saying, "I am the first to say there is more to do, we've got some difficult decisions to go on taking on public expenditure and the welfare bills."

Osborne said it was "nonsense" that he would be unable to achieve the further spending reductions. His fellow cabinet minister, the Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable, disagrees. He dismissed his coalition partner's plan as, "simply not realisable".

With public services and local government squeezed to the point of suffering already, the OBR's warning could make the Tories a difficult sell to the electorate for a second time round. However, those who support the Conservatives believe that cuts to public spending rather than tax rises are the right direction, and may therefore respond favourably to Osborne's plea to allow him to "stay the course".

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at 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.