George Osborne will deliver his Autumn Statement today. Photo: Getty
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Good cop, bad cop, steady cop? What to expect from the Autumn Statement

The Chancellor will make his last Autumn Statement before the general election. What will it include?

In one of the last set-piece political events before the general election, George Osborne will deliver his Autumn Statement today.

Unsurprisingly with a general election around the bend, the Chancellor has approached this pre-budget in a significantly political way. So what can we expect?

First, we already know a great deal of what will be included in the Statement. These are all the positive spending promises and plans for the future. The headline policies include:
 

 

A number of these plans have been condemned by the opposition as “re-announcements”, because the money has been pledged before, and also of “recycling funds”, because most of this is money being moved around and scraped together from further efficiency savings in Whitehall rather than being new spending money.

Yet in spite of this, these policies are the preceding ‘good cop’ to what will undoubtedly be George Osborne’s slightly gloomier cop when he addresses the Commons this afternoon. He will have to address how the economic recovery has not played out exactly, nor nearly as quickly, as first planned.

In light of this, his strategy for delivering the Statement will be to communicate to voters to “stay the course” with the Conservatives, to take the country gradually back to prosperity, rather than handing the Treasury to Labour, which is still the party less trusted on the economy. He will say:

Our long-term economic plan is working. I say: we stay the course. We stay the course to prosperity.

Whether this ‘good cop, steady cop’ tactic will work depends a great deal on Labour’s response. The party has been hitting the Chancellor hard on the fact that he has failed to keep his promises on fixing the economy. The shadow chancellor Ed Balls commented:

David Cameron and George Osborne have now failed every test and broken every promise they made on the economy.

They promised living standards would rise, but while millionaires have got a huge tax cut working people are £1600 a year worse off under the Tories. This cost-of-living crisis is why the Chancellor will have to admit he has broken his promise to balance the books by next year.

Labour will have to hammer this message home during its response to the Chancellor today.

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.