Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. What exactly can private schools teach the state sector? (Guardian)

As the head of an independent school puts forward plans to tackle inequality, he forgets his sector's dire record when working in state education, says John Harris.

2. The rise of a new US federalism (Financial Times)

With federal government largely paralysed, the future is being shaped in the cities, writes Edward Luce.

3. What is it about male politicians that they seem to have such problems dealing with women? (Independent)

In France, female MPs endure obscene gestures, wolf whistles and other insults, writes Yasmin Alibhai Brown. 

4. Our housing is in crisis – we need both brownfield and greenfield sites (Guardian)

The tougher the planning controls, the higher the house prices, writes Chris Huhne. We must ease restrictions in our cities and in the countryside.

5. Cleggton Keynes in England’s rolling hills? No thanks, Nick (Daily Telegraph)

We don’t need any new 'garden’ cities, writes Boris Johnson. London’s brownfield sites can solve the housing crisis.

6. Obama’s plan for US surveillance (Financial Times)

The proposals offer only a modest advance on what is needed, says an FT editorial. 

7. After Owen Jones’s open letter to Ukip voters last week, here is my reply (Independent)

I fear that you may have been reading too much into a statistical sample and haven’t taken the time to get out and meet our voters, writes Nigel Farage to Owen Jones.

8. Growing Pains (Times)

As the global economy slowly recovers, policymakers should recall that debt-fuelled consumption has limits, says a Times editorial.

9. I believe this ghastly woman hastened my friend's death (Daily Mail)

Lord McAlpine was broken down by the cruel strain of being a victim of Sally Bercow's terrible lie, writes Simon Heffer. 

10. If we don’t care, we will legalise euthanasia (Times)

Dutch right-to-die laws opened the door to the killing of mentally ill patients, writes Peter Franklin. 

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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.