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Q&A: Nicholas Mosley

You are often described as a novelist of ideas. Do you recognise yourself in that description?

I prefer to say that I write about people who have ideas. And I certainly think that ideas are what differentiate us from the rest of the animal world.

For instance, Adam, the protagonist in your new novel God’s Hazard, is obsessed by the problem of free will and tries to reimagine the God of the Old Testament.

That’s right. I use Adam to put over some questions of my own. It struck me many years ago how extraordinarily unpleasant we make all our gods. And even after I became a practising Christian after the Second World War, I remained obsessed with the question why the Old Testament God is so odious – in fact, he’s one of the most unpleasant characters in fiction. I don’t feel much personal relationship with God the Father, an old man up in the sky. And in a world that is dominated by this vengeful father, free will doesn’t make much sense. But I wanted to see how the notion does make sense.

Did you conceive your memoir Paradoxes of Peace as an accompaniment to the novel? It is a very powerful record of your coming to religious faith.

I did. I went to and fro between the two books as I was writing them. As a young man, I had some rather conventional misgivings about Christianity – especially the Atonement. How did God the Father think he could make things better by getting his son to suffer the worst kind of evil? I’ve always found that hard.

What role did your father Sir Oswald Mosley play in all this? You describe his disappointment when you announced you wanted to be a novelist rather than a philosopher.

When I was a young man, I had all the usual adolescent anxieties about the meaning of life. And he, though he was in his fifties by then, still had them too. He was like a child in that respect. He was always interested and open-minded about this unfashionable thing called “the meaning of life”.

How did you reconcile the sceptical, inquiring father you knew with the public embodiment of ideological certainty?

Even though I was enormously influenced by my father when I was young, I always thought his politics were wrong, crazy. The first public speech I heard him give in the 1930s – I must have been ten or 11 – I found completely insane. It was in Hyde Park. The anti-fascists came marching down Bayswater, shouting slogans and singing anti-fascist songs, and there was a police auto-gyro hovering overhead, so no one could hear what he said anyway.

On several occasions, you describe your father’s politics as “self-destructive” and you portray him as inhabited by a malevolent force bigger than himself.

That’s exactly how I see it. Remember that after the war, he went back into politics. He went into Notting Hill to stir up feeling against the blacks. When he got up on top of a speaker van he was like someone possessed. He was in the grip of a kind of addiction and it didn’t do him any good. He really thought he was going to get elected as an independent, but when the vote came, he lost his deposit. I told him he was destroying himself. He said he’d never speak to me again. But at the end of his life I was one of the few people he wanted to talk to. I think he realised he was some sort of junkie, a rhetoric junkie. It wasn’t about power. If it had been power he was interested in, all he needed to do was stay in the Labour Party, tell a few lies and he’d have become leader.

“God’s Hazard” and “Paradoxes of Peace” by Nicholas Mosley are published by Dalkey Archive Press (both at £10.99)

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 18 May 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Rock bottom

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Q&A: What are tax credits and how do they work?

All you need to know about the government's plan to cut tax credits.

What are tax credits?

Tax credits are payments made regularly by the state into bank accounts to support families with children, or those who are in low-paid jobs. There are two types of tax credit: the working tax credit and the child tax credit.

What are they for?

To redistribute income to those less able to get by, or to provide for their children, on what they earn.

Are they similar to tax relief?

No. They don’t have much to do with tax. They’re more of a welfare thing. You don’t need to be a taxpayer to receive tax credits. It’s just that, unlike other benefits, they are based on the tax year and paid via the tax office.

Who is eligible?

Anyone aged over 16 (for child tax credits) and over 25 (for working tax credits) who normally lives in the UK can apply for them, depending on their income, the hours they work, whether they have a disability, and whether they pay for childcare.

What are their circumstances?

The more you earn, the less you are likely to receive. Single claimants must work at least 16 hours a week. Let’s take a full-time worker: if you work at least 30 hours a week, you are generally eligible for working tax credits if you earn less than £13,253 a year (if you’re single and don’t have children), or less than £18,023 (jointly as part of a couple without children but working at least 30 hours a week).

And for families?

A family with children and an income below about £32,200 can claim child tax credit. It used to be that the more children you have, the more you are eligible to receive – but George Osborne in his most recent Budget has limited child tax credit to two children.

How much money do you receive?

Again, this depends on your circumstances. The basic payment for a single claimant, or a joint claim by a couple, of working tax credits is £1,940 for the tax year. You can then receive extra, depending on your circumstances. For example, single parents can receive up to an additional £2,010, on top of the basic £1,940 payment; people who work more than 30 hours a week can receive up to an extra £810; and disabled workers up to £2,970. The average award of tax credit is £6,340 per year. Child tax credit claimants get £545 per year as a flat payment, plus £2,780 per child.

How many people claim tax credits?

About 4.5m people – the vast majority of these people (around 4m) have children.

How much does it cost the taxpayer?

The estimation is that they will cost the government £30bn in April 2015/16. That’s around 14 per cent of the £220bn welfare budget, which the Tories have pledged to cut by £12bn.

Who introduced this system?

New Labour. Gordon Brown, when he was Chancellor, developed tax credits in his first term. The system as we know it was established in April 2003.

Why did they do this?

To lift working people out of poverty, and to remove the disincentives to work believed to have been inculcated by welfare. The tax credit system made it more attractive for people depending on benefits to work, and gave those in low-paid jobs a helping hand.

Did it work?

Yes. Tax credits’ biggest achievement was lifting a record number of children out of poverty since the war. The proportion of children living below the poverty line fell from 35 per cent in 1998/9 to 19 per cent in 2012/13.

So what’s the problem?

Well, it’s a bit of a weird system in that it lets companies pay wages that are too low to live on without the state supplementing them. Many also criticise tax credits for allowing the minimum wage – also brought in by New Labour – to stagnate (ie. not keep up with the rate of inflation). David Cameron has called the system of taxing low earners and then handing them some money back via tax credits a “ridiculous merry-go-round”.

Then it’s a good thing to scrap them?

It would be fine if all those low earners and families struggling to get by would be given support in place of tax credits – a living wage, for example.

And that’s why the Tories are introducing a living wage...

That’s what they call it. But it’s not. The Chancellor announced in his most recent Budget a new minimum wage of £7.20 an hour for over-25s, rising to £9 by 2020. He called this the “national living wage” – it’s not, because the current living wage (which is calculated by the Living Wage Foundation, and currently non-compulsory) is already £9.15 in London and £7.85 in the rest of the country.

Will people be better off?

No. Quite the reverse. The IFS has said this slightly higher national minimum wage will not compensate working families who will be subjected to tax credit cuts; it is arithmetically impossible. The IFS director, Paul Johnson, commented: “Unequivocally, tax credit recipients in work will be made worse off by the measures in the Budget on average.” It has been calculated that 3.2m low-paid workers will have their pay packets cut by an average of £1,350 a year.

Could the government change its policy to avoid this?

The Prime Minister and his frontbenchers have been pretty stubborn about pushing on with the plan. In spite of criticism from all angles – the IFS, campaigners, Labour, The Sun – Cameron has ruled out a review of the policy in the Autumn Statement, which is on 25 November. But there is an alternative. The chair of parliament’s Work & Pensions Select Committee and Labour MP Frank Field has proposed what he calls a “cost neutral” tweak to the tax credit cuts.

How would this alternative work?

Currently, if your income is less than £6,420, you will receive the maximum amount of tax credits. That threshold is called the gross income threshold. Field wants to introduce a second gross income threshold of £13,100 (what you earn if you work 35 hours a week on minimum wage). Those earning a salary between those two thresholds would have their tax credits reduced at a slower rate on whatever they earn above £6,420 up to £13,100. The percentage of what you earn above the basic threshold that is deducted from your tax credits is called the taper rate, and it is currently at 41 per cent. In contrast to this plan, the Tories want to halve the income threshold to £3,850 a year and increase the taper rate to 48 per cent once you hit that threshold, which basically means you lose more tax credits, faster, the more you earn.

When will the tax credit cuts come in?

They will be imposed from April next year, barring a u-turn.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.