Latest employment tribunal statistics confirm loss of access to justice for workers

Professor Nicole Busby, Strathclyde University

Professor Nicole Busby, Strathclyde University

If we needed further proof that the Coalition’s policy of charging claimants to bring cases to the Employment Tribunal (ET) posed a serious threat to access to justice in employment disputes, the latest ET statistics published by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) provide it.

The most recent figures, which cover April to June 2014, show that the downward trend in the number of claims brought, which has been recorded for every quarter since fees were introduced in July 2013, has continued. Single claims have fallen by 70% compared with the same period in 2013, with multiple claims down from 1500 to just 500. Furthermore, the introduction in April 2014 of Acas’s early conciliation scheme has had an impact on the number of claims lodged.

Under the scheme, there is a mandatory requirement that Acas must be notified of any dispute before an ET claim can be made. This is to facilitate efforts to settle the dispute. One effect of this is that cases which do end up with the ET now face a time lag of about a month while Acas has an opportunity to intervene. Another effect is that the statistics for April to June 2014 are not directly comparable with the same period in 2013. Nevertheless, there is still a significant reduction.

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Multimorbidity guidelines falling short: National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)

Dr Pauline Heslop, Reader in Intellectual Disabilities Research, Norah Fry Research Centre,

Dr Pauline Heslop, Reader in Intellectual Disabilities Research, Norah Fry Research Centre

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has recently been consulting on the scope of proposed guidelines on multimorbidity. Multimorbidity is, in summary, the co-occurrence of two or more chronic medical conditions in one person. Yet the proposed scope of the guidelines will not, in their current form, offer guidance on multimorbidity in people with learning disabilities. So is this a problem that needs attention? Yes.

The recent Confidential Inquiry into premature deaths of people with learning disabilities (CIPOLD) and other national and international studies suggest that people with learning disabilities have a greater number of health problems than others, and a greater variety of healthcare concerns than those of the same age and gender in the general population. This would suggest that particular attention must be paid to this population in any NICE Guidelines. Indeed, recommendation 3 of the CIPOLD report was that NICE Guidelines should take into account multimorbidity in relation to people with learning disabilities.

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How long is a good life?

David Abbott, Professor of Social Policy, School for Policy Studies

David Abbott, Professor of Social Policy, School for Policy Studies

How long are we ‘supposed’ to live for? ‘Three score and ten’ was a phrase I used to hear growing up (70 in new money). Our cultural ideas about life course and life span and who should die when are deeply ingrained. Parents should never bury their children, right? But what if you are born with or develop a condition which means that from a relatively young age your life span is destined to be much shorter than the norm and that without a dramatic medical breakthrough, very little will change that.

Boys (and it’s nearly always boys) diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy are one such group. Duchenne (or DMD) is an inherited neuromuscular disease and the average age of death used to be 19 but during the last few years, with significant improvements in the ways DMD is managed, has risen to around 27 years. There is currently no cure for DMD.

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Difficult to get a GP appointment? Barriers are even greater for people with autism

Dr Pauline Heslop, Norah Fry Research Centre, School for Policy Studies

Dr Pauline Heslop, Norah Fry Research Centre, School for Policy Studies

The challenges of providing a responsive GP service in the face of greater demand, a shortage of GPs and diminished available funding have been highlighted in the media over the past few months. Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, has advocated for the greater use of telephone consultations to improve access to GPs by patients, but a new report published in the Lancet this week suggests that this does not reduce pressure on practices or save money, and may indeed increase workload. Yet some patient groups face greater barriers than others in accessing GP services. In recognition of this, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has now selected autism as a clinical priority from April 2014-March 2017. The work, to be led by Bristol GP Dr Carole Buckley, will aim to improve access to primary care for people with autism and their families, and to enhance their health outcomes.

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Tribunal fees mean workers can’t afford a fair hearing

Professor Morag McDermont, Professor of Socio-Legal Studies, University of Bristol

Professor Morag McDermont, Professor of Socio-Legal Studies, University of Bristol

It’s been a year since the government introduced fees for workers making a claim to an employment tribunal. The most recent statistics show that this has led to an 81% decrease in cases. This has profoundly worrying consequences for the future of employment law. Workers who have been unfairly dismissed, subjected to unlawful discrimination, or who have simply not been paid for work they have done now have severely limited access to justice.

So why has the sudden drop happened? Have employment relations in the UK suddenly improved? No. The reason is simply that the vast majority of workers who find themselves in dispute with their employers (or ex-employers, since many claims relate to dismissal) can no longer afford to seek justice.

Professor Nicole Busby, Strathclyde University

Professor Nicole Busby, Strathclyde University

The coalition government introduced the fees regime largely thanks to unsubstantiated assertions that employment tribunals provided a charter for workers to make unmerited claims and vexatious appeals. The restriction of access to justice on the basis of ability to pay may seem like a contradiction in terms, and the level at which fees have been set is far higher than those for making a comparable claim in the County Court.

In order to even submit a form which enables a claim to be lodged in the system, a worker must now pay between £160 and £250 depending on the nature of the claim. If the claim goes to a hearing, the aggrieved worker must pay a further £230 or £950. This means that in order for many serious claims to be resolved, alleged victims must pay £1200 alongside any other related costs. It is hardly surprising that four out of five people now decide not to proceed.

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CIPOLD and the power of stories

Anna Marriott, Research Fellow, Norah Fry Research Centre, School for Policy Studies

Anna Marriott, Research Fellow, Norah Fry Research Centre, School for Policy Studies

Howard Gardner, a psychology professor at Harvard University, claims that stories are the most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal. He argues that social scientists have finally caught up with political, religious and military leaders and now realise the power of narratives.

In March 2013 the Confidential Inquiry into premature deaths of people with learning disabilities (CIPOLD) reported its findings to the Department of Health. These were launched at a national conference and since then we have disseminated the findings in a wide variety of ways. It has become evident to me that all the audiences to whom I have spoken respond better to the stories I tell, as opposed to the facts and figures I present.

We learn through stories, they help us to understand issues and they make events and lessons memorable. They have power as they print a picture on peoples’ minds. If you want someone to learn and hopefully to change their behaviour, tell a story that will strike a chord. Stories stay with you because they involve people and how they deal with real life problems and situations.

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Getting research through the doors of Westminster

Dr Pauline Heslop, Norah Fry Research Centre, School for Policy Studies

Dr Pauline Heslop, Norah Fry Research Centre, School for Policy Studies

Telling acquaintances that you are part of a team reviewing the deaths of people with learning disabilities can stop a conversation in its tracks. Most people glaze over, make excuses and beat a hasty retreat. So how could we encourage the Government to listen to, and commit to addressing the issues?

The Confidential Inquiry into premature deaths of people with learning disabilities (CI) was commissioned by the Department of Health as a three-year project to assess the extent of premature deaths in people with learning disabilities and offer guidance on prevention. In March 2013 we reported our findings to the Department of Health and shared them nationally through a series of media interviews, public conferences and events. We also engaged with Parliament in a number of ways – including giving evidence at a House of Lords Select Committee, addressing an All Party Parliamentary Group meeting, and briefing peers for a debate in the House of Lords.

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