Garbage press reports about ET claims soar since Covid lockdown

AGE DISCRIMINATION CLAIMS IN SCOTLAND SOAR BY 13,000%, THEN DROP LIKE A BRICK

By Amelia Hill, Senior Reporter at the Guardian, Charles Hymas, Home Affairs Editor of the Telegraph, Giles Sheldrick, Chief Reporter at the Daily Express, Steve Doughty at the Daily Fail, Adam McCulloch at Personnel Today, Greg Wright at the Yorkshire Post, and Calum Trenaman at People Management (the voice of the CIPD).

The number of age discrimination claims taken to Employment Tribunals has increased dramatically in Scotland since Covid lockdown, according to analysis of Ministry of Injustice data.

Claims increased by 1,049% over the year, with a stonking 13,043% increase in October 2020, compared with the same month the year before.

News of the steep increase comes against a backdrop of it being a Bank Holiday weekend, and a resultant shortage of proper journalists on newsdesks throughout Fleet Street.

“We know that this increase has absolutely nothing to do with Covid, and tells us nothing about how employers have responded to the lockdowns”, said Stuart Lewis, the founder of Rest Less, a jobs site in desperate need of a higher public profile. “But these journalists don’t, so we can get our name in their papers for nothing!”

Patrick Thomson, a senior programme manager at the Centre for Ageing Better, said: “I haven’t got a clue what’s going on, to be honest, but they said if I provide a meaningless quote we will get our name in the papers too. This is the #MeToo moment for wrinklies. Or something.”

A Ministry of Injustice spokesperson said: “Hahahaha! Hahahaha!”

Several dozen employment lawyers said: “Are you joking me? In the Guardian???”

Note (only read if you are a nerd): Across England, Scotland & Wales, there was a 74% increase in the number of age discrimination ET claims in 2020, compared to 2019. And there was a 176% increase in Oct-Dec 2020, compared to the same quarter in 2019. But that was mostly due to a 13,043% increase in Scotland in October 2020 (when there were 920 claims), compared to October 2019 (when there were 7 claims).

Strip out the figures for Scotland (shown in the chart above), and there was a 30% increase in England & Wales in 2020 (when there were 2,662 claims), compared to 2019 (2,021 claims), and a 21% increase in Oct-Dec 2020 (when there were 672 claims), compared to the same quarter in 2019 (555 claims). And it is really only that three-month period Oct – Dec 2020 that we need to focus on, as that is the first quarter in which we can expect to see any impact of Covid and the associated lockdowns on the number of ET discrimination claims. Why else would Rest Less, the Centre for Ageing Better and their pet journalists have focused on it in their garbage articles, eh? [Yes, yes, I know.]

To put that 21% rise in context, in Oct-Dec 2020, across England, Scotland & Wales the total number of new ET single claims/cases (arguably the best benchmark in this context, but see below) rose by 25%, compared to the same quarter in 2019; unfair dismissal claims were up 28%, sex discrimination claims were up 13%, and both disability discrimination and pregnancy/maternity discrimination claims were up 8%. The number of age discrimination claims is very small, relative to major ET jurisdictions such as unfair dismissal, so only a numpty gets super excited about percentage changes in the number, which goes down as well as up.

For example, the 3,668 age discrimination claims in England, Scotland & Wales in 2020 is way down on 2017, when there were 6,704 claims, on 2016, when there were 7,498 claims, and on 2015, when there were 12,654 claims. Why did the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Express, the Daily Fail, Personnel Today, the Yorkshire Post and People Management not mention this steep decline? Surely Rest Less and the Centre for Better Ageing should be celebrating this long-term downward trend?

All this data has been freely available on the MoJ website since 11 March 2021, so it’s not really ‘news’ on 1 June. And the October 2020 figure in Scotland appears to reflect the lodging of a single multiple claimant case (with some 900+ claimants) by the Scottish Police Federation, in respect of changes to police and other civil service pensions made by the Government in 2015 – so, nothing to do with Covid or the lockdowns.

Spotting a quirk in the ET statistics and then claiming this proves something your organisation gives a shit about is an old PR trick that I have written about here and, even longer ago, here.

On Twitter, Giles Sheldrick of the Daily Express has sought to defend his numptiness by (a) conceding that age discrimination claims rose by just 30% in England & Wales in 2020, not 74% as stated in his article; and (b) asserting that the total number of jurisdictional complaints [sic] rose by 7%, whereas in his article he stated that this number (which he wrongly referred to as “overall cases”) had fallen from 183,207 to 180,430 (a drop of 2%). In short, in just 24 hours he’s gone from contrasting an increase of 74% with a decrease of 2% (a difference of 76 percentage points), to contrasting an increase of 30% with an increase of 7% (a difference of just 23 percentage points).

Leaving aside the question of whether Giles would have got his article in the paper if he’d used the 30% and 7% figures he now relies on, the total number of jurisdictional complaints is the least meaningful of the several different ways of measuring ‘overall cases’. A much more meaningful benchmark is the total number of claims, as that is also the total number of claimants, each of whom can make a claim in more than one jurisdiction. And, across England, Scotland & Wales, that number rose by 8%, from 108,592 in 2019, to 117,446 in 2020. But of course Rest Less and the Centre for Ageing Better chose to contrast the number of age discrimination claims with the total number of jurisdictional complaints, because of that convenient 2% fall.

Furthermore, some (including me) would argue that the most meaningful benchmark in this context is the total number of claims made by individual workers (i.e. the number of single claims/cases), as – unlike the total number of claims – that number is not subject to the distortions caused by multiple claimant cases brought by law firms and trade unions on behalf of sometimes very large groups of workers (e.g. that multiple claimant case with some 900 claimants in Scotland in October 2020). And, across England, Scotland & Wales, the total number of single claims/cases rose by 13%, from 39,966 in 2019, to 45,245 in 2020.

So, you can see why Rest Less, the Centre for Ageing Better and their pet journalists chose not to use the total number of single claims/cases as their benchmark. But, if we do use it as the benchmark, the statistics show that, in Oct – Dec 2020, the number of age discrimination claims in England & Wales rose by 21%, compared to the same period in 2019, and the number of single claims/cases rose by 27% (from 9,743 to 12,337). Those are really the only two percentages that matter here, and I doubt that even a future Pulitzer Prize-winning newshound like Giles Sheldrick could get a story out of them.

UPDATE (7 June): So, the numpties at People Management (the voice of the CIPD) have seen fit to add a corrective to their original article. This states:

Since publishing, People Management has learned there was a spike of 920 age discrimination complaints made in Scotland in October 2020 – accounting for a quarter of all age discrimination complaints made last year – which could be attributed to coordinated public sector claims following a 2018 Court of Appeal ruling on pensions.

In response, Rest Less noted that excluding the figures from Scotland, England and Wales had still seen a 30 per cent rise in claims for age discrimination last year, whereas the total number of [jurisdictional] claims for all reasons only increased by 7 per cent.

Stuart Lewis, founder of Rest Less, said: “While some of the rise can be attributed to a specific case based in Scotland, the underlying trend of age discrimination claims is clearly up year on year and we know that the pandemic has exacerbated age discrimination in both the workplace and the recruitment process.

Leaving aside the question of whether Stuart Lewis of Rest Less would have got quite so many numpty journalists to copy out his press release if he’d used the 30% and 7% figures, rather than 74% and -2%, this still begs the question: so fucking what?

Because, if we look at what happened, month by month, in England & Wales in 2019 and 2020, we can see that much of that 30% increase occurred in January, February and July 2020. And there certainly won’t have been any impact of Covid and the lockdowns on the number of age discrimination claims in January and February 2020, as the first lockdown only started on 23 March.

As for July 2020, that is still a bit too early to expect to see much if any impact of Covid and the first lockdown on the number of ET claims, given the need for any would-be ET claimant to go through statutory Acas early conciliation before being able to lodge an ET claim. The spike that month seems more likely to be due to the lodging of a multiple claimant case somewhere. And – lo! – if we look at the data for July 2020, we find that 208 (57%) of the 364 age discrimination claims in England & Wales were lodged in just one region: London. The month before, there were just 22 such claims in London region (out of a total of 199), in August there were 64 (out of a total of 175), and in December – when employers were busy ditching older workers by the thousand, according to Rest Less and the Centre for Ageing Better – there were 26 (out of a total of 189).

So, if we compare the last five months of 2020 with the same period in 2019, we find that age discrimination claims in England & Wales increased by just 7%, from 969 to 1,041. Which I suggest is no big deal, and certainly doesn’t merit feverish coverage in four national newspapers, a regional newspaper and two supposedly specialist journals.

Update (10 June): So, ten days after I wrote to the Guardian‘s Readers’ Editor to request a correction, the Guardian has today amended its original article, to reflect the 30% and 7% figures on which Stuart Lewis of Rest Less now relies.

About wonkypolicywonk

Wonkypolicywonk is a policy minion, assigned wonky at birth, who has been lucky enough to work for two of the very best MPs in the House of Commons, and before that at Maternity Action, Working Families, Citizens Advice, the National Audit Office, the Law Society, and Amnesty International UK.
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2 Responses to Garbage press reports about ET claims soar since Covid lockdown

  1. Pingback: Employment Tribunal claims: Will the Lewis-Thomson Theorem pass the test of time? | Labour Pains

  2. Pingback: Are age discrimination cases rising fast? - workingwise.co.uk

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