Friday, 18 September 2015

Working on justice for all

In July 2013, the last coalition government, led by David Cameron and Nick Clegg, introduced charges of up to £1,200 for individuals who wanted and needed to take their case to an employment tribunal.

It appears that this is just part of a relentless Conservative attack on the ability of ordinary working people to be supported and represented in the workplace – especially when things go wrong.
It is clear that these charges have become a significant barrier to securing justice where people have been treated unfairly and improperly. The introduction of these employment tribunal fees has seen the number of new cases plummet.

In the six months up to March 2014, new cases were down 62% on the same period in 2012-13; cases involving unfair dismissal were down by 64%, those involving alleged sex discrimination by 80%, and those relating to equal pay by 84%. They haven’t recovered since with the number of new cases in the last two quarters of 2014-15 down 69% on the same period two years ago.

Recent statistics also show that fewer than one in five applications for employment tribunal fee reductions are successful. Less than 4,000 of the 21,000 cases, where fees were required, were awarded a full or partial remission in 2014/15.

When giving evidence to the Justice Select Committee in July, the Conservative Justice Secretary Michael Gove said that “a simple reduction in the numbers of people going to employment tribunals is not in itself proof that there’s been any injustice visited on anyone.” He added “….. there is no evidence yet that the bar being set at a high level has meant that meritorious claims by people who feel they’ve been discriminated against aren’t being heard.” That is not a view shared by those now being denied justice.

I think the employment tribunal system does need reform so that workers have access to justice, employers get a quick resolution, and the costs are controlled. Following much pressure, the government has now announced a review into these fees.

If you have been affected, or you have ideas for improvement, please let me know.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Franco would be proud

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Cameron’s Conservative government is pursuing a wide-ranging agenda designed to curb democratic rights, suppress civil liberties, and silence the voices of ordinary working people.

This government wants to scrap the Human Rights Act, has introduced fees denying women the chance to sue for equal pay in tribunals, has slashed legal aid, has disenfranchised millions of voters through ill-thought out changes to electoral registration and has stifled the ability of charities to campaign and challenge government policy.

In addition, it is now attempting to limit the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to prevent people from gaining access to information about policies and performance which should be in the public domain. I know from personal experience just how hard it can be to get basic straightforward information out of this government’s Ministers. For example, Eric Pickles persistently refused to answer questions about the number of households receiving a weekly all-purpose refuse collection service because he didn’t want to admit he’d wasted £250 million.

Now Cameron has launched an attack on the basic rights of 6 million members of trade unions. They are workers in a wide range of industries and services – from engineers to shop assistants, teachers to bakers, office workers to nurses.

The Trade Union Bill presents a threat to activity and campaigning by trade unions – which is entirely unrelated to party politics. Things that will be stopped or hampered include Usdaw’s ‘Freedom From Fear’ Campaign which seeks to prevent violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers, and the ‘Hope Not Hate’ campaign which works to build community cohesiveness, and efforts at increasing electoral registration. 

This Bill risks damaging industrial relations and the proposals will undermine constructive employment relations. It’s likely to result in more, not less, industrial action as the provisions risk extending disputes and making it more difficult to reach settlements.

When it gets to the point that prominent right-wing Conservative MP David Davis calls some of the Bill’s measures “like something out of Franco’s dictatorship in Spain”, you know that the government should think again.

If you want to read more about what the government is proposing and some informed comment about the background to and detail of the Trade Union Bill, I suggest:

House of Commons’ Library Briefing
You can read a summary or download a detailed report about the Bill’s provisions at

Stop the union-bashing
An essay by Robert Halfon, Conservative MP for Harlow

Comprehensive briefing by the TUC and General Secretary Frances O’Grady

Care not

The number of elderly people requiring residential and nursing care is rising, as are the costs of providing such care. The care costs for some people were wiping out the vast majority of their limited assets.

In 2011, the Dilnot Commission recommended the introduction of a cap on social care costs “to protect people from extreme care costs” in a range of £25,000 to £50,000, with a suggested rate of £35,000. It also proposed an increase in the upper capital limit for the means-test – below which people are eligible for local authority financial support towards their care costs1 – from £23,250 to £100,000.

That led to the Care Act 2014 and, in February 2013, the Conservative Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, announced that the Government would follow the Commission’s recommendation and introduce a £75,000 cap on social care charges in April 2017. He also announced that those with assets worth £123,000 or less would receive some degree of financial support for their care costs. Just a month later, George Osborne changed that to a £72,000 cap and a £118,000 upper asset limit. In January this year, the draft regulations were published.

In April this year, David Cameron promised – as set out in the Conservative Party’s manifesto for the General Election - that a Conservative Government, if elected, would implement them and on the timescale already set.

On 17 July 2015, just 10 weeks later, the Government announced a four-year delay in the introduction of the cap on social care costs.

In this Ministerial announcement, reference was made to lobbying by the Conservative-led Local Government Association which had confirmed that the funding gap in adult social care is growing by a minimum of £700 million a year – fewer people are being cared for, home care charges are rising rapidly, hospital bed-blocking is at record levels, and Mr Osborne has already announced that he intends to make £9bn additional cuts in local services later this year – and suggested that the care cap costs would be better used to fund these services.

Unsurprisingly, the care cap has been delayed for a minimum of 4 years and there is no sign of the saving being used to support home care.

Are we seriously being asked to believe that Cameron, Osborne and Hunt had not already intended delaying the care cap when they made that manifesto promise?