A general view of the Ministry of Justice building in Westminster. Photo: Getty Images
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New fees cause 70 per cent drop in employment tribunal cases

Figures released today show that charges brought in by the coalition have caused a severe drop in the number of workers bringing tribunal cases against their employers, leading to accusations that justice is now available only to those who can afford it.

Employment tribunal statistics published by the Ministry of Justice this week have revealed a stark 70 per cent fall in individual claims between April and June 2014, relative to the same period in 2013. The figures reinforce the perception of the fees as a "tax on justice", with TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady saying that "Britain's bad bosses are getting away with harassment and abuse of workers".

The fees were introduced in July 2013 by the coalition in response to pressure from the private sector, which sought to reduce what were perceived to be "frivolous" claims which cost the taxpayer thousands in legal fees. However, with individuals having to pay up to £1,250 to bring their employer to a tribunal, there has been such a marked decrease in cases that it is extremely unlikely that only frivolous cases have been discouraged. Rob Wall, the head of the CBI's head of employment policy, told the Independent: "We have never called for the level of fees the government has introduced."

Within every employee category claims are down year-on year. Race discrimination cases are down 61 per cent, unfair dismissal by 74 per cent, religious discrimination down by 64 per cent and disability discrimination by 63 per cent. The smallest drop was in the category of age discrimination, which fell by 37 per cent - however, cases of sex discrimination experienced the largest fall, by an alarming 91 per cent. Furthermore, total claims are down a third on previous quarter.

The report states that the data is subject to later revision as it is now policy for cases only to be recorded when fees have been paid (and that the numbers above are therefore likely to be revised upwards) but, since the key issue is that employees are being discouraged from ever filing tribunal claims in the first place, these revisions are unlikely to compensate for much at all of the drop that has been observed.

The following graph from the report details the total number of cases brought by individuals and by groups between April 2012 and June 2014 - the effect of the introduction of fees in July 2013 is immediately clear:


When the previous quarter's figures were released, Michael Reed, the principle legal officer at the Free Representation Unit, pointed out that there was no significant change in the ratio of employers winning cases versus employees winning cases when comparing pre- and post-fee periods. If the fees were truly discouraging weak cases then employers should be winning fewer cases as a proportion of the total under the new system. The latest quarter of figures show similarly show no significant change with the period before the fees were introduced - while the 2011/12 statistics show that employees won 18 per cent of cases and lost 22 per cent (averaged across all categories), the new report has them winning 16 per cent and losing 25 per cent.

Ian Steadman is a staff science and technology writer at the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @iansteadman.

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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.