The editorial lead of shame:
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Xenophobia from the Daily Mail, and perhaps it is Tristram Hunt who should concentrate in class

The silence of the climate-change deniers, subsidising Dacre’s acres, and Tristram Hunt’s silence.

Where are they all? As half of southern England disappears under flood water, Nigel Lawson and his son Dominic, Christopher Booker, Melanie Phillips, Peter Hitchens, Richard Littlejohn, James Delingpole and other climate-change sceptics are strangely silent. When snow falls, it is their habit to report that, after looking outside, they can conclusively refute claims that the planet is warming. Now, as the country experiences unprecedented quantities of rain, with giant waves reported off the coast and winter temperatures staying mostly above freezing, they seem to have lost interest.

Beneath the Daily Telegraph’s front-page report on the floods the other day, a cross-reference signalled that Delingpole was on page 18. I turned eagerly inside. He was writing about giraffes.

Yes, I know that no particular weather event can be attributed directly to global warming. But weird, erratic weather of this sort – a heatwave in Australia, low temperatures in the US, continuous rain and wind in the UK, all breaking records – is exactly what scientists predicted. The Lawsons and the rest could at least give us a clue as to what is going through their minds.

After the flood

The Daily Mail’s petition to divert foreign aid to British flood victims is a shameless piece of xenophobic rabble-rousing, even by the Mail’s standards. Last year’s floods in northern India caused about 5,700 deaths. The Pakistan floods of 2010, which directly affected roughly 20 million people, cost an estimated £26bn. The floods in Thailand in 2011 cost even more. Dreadful though the English floods must be for those affected, the death toll and final costs will be, by international standards, insignificant. Whatever the failings of the Environment Agency, we are lucky to live in a country that has the infrastructure, emergency services and insurance provision to cope fairly well with natural disasters.

If the Mail must have a target, the £3bn a year in subsidies to UK farming, which benefits firms such as Tate & Lyle and British Sugar and landowners such as the Daily Mail’s editor, Paul Dacre (for his Scottish estate, Langwell), would be a better one.

Driven to distraction

As readers of last week’s New Statesman will have noted, Labour’s education spokesman, Tristram Hunt, has nothing to say about “education’s Berlin Wall” and the dominance of the private school minority in public life. Yet he has plenty to say on other pressing matters. Under a Labour government, he has informed us in recent weeks, teachers will be relicensed every five years, “behaviour experts” will stop kids messing about in class, children will acquire “the ability to concentrate” and schools will teach “resilience and self-control and character”. Meanwhile, Ed Miliband, presumably with Hunt’s agreement, says that parents will be able to get head teachers sacked.

Somebody should tell Hunt that, under a well-managed education system, teachers would be left to deal with bad and inattentive children, heads with bad teachers and governors (who, in local authority schools, include elected parental representatives) with bad heads. Wider strategic issues such as the role of fee-charging schools are for politicians and policymakers. It is Hunt who should learn how to concentrate.

Get your Daley rant

You may have spotted the Sunday Telegraph columnist Janet Daley – whose writing career I helped launch on the Independent’s education pages around 1987 – on BBC1’s Question Time. You may also have heard audience dissent as she delivered her trenchant right-wing opinions. Do not be deceived. In a recent column, Daley explains to “folks at home” (she’s North American and they talk that way over there) that “professional activists who are trained in the techniques of public influence” position themselves around the room so they can cause “enough ruckus to intimidate those who disagree with them”. Conservatives are apparently powerless to hit back because they “lead normal lives with private preoccupations”.

This gloriously paranoid analysis requires no comment from me but I should pay tribute to the prescience of an Independent colleague who, when I started publishing Daley (because she was among the few right-wing writers who could compose a readable sentence on education), declared that she was “not the sort of person one should encourage”.

Deal or no deal

David Cameron asks the English to phone their Scottish friends and tell them to vote No in the independence referendum. With any luck, the Scots will make the obvious reply: if you English promise to stop voting Tory, we’ll stay in the UK.

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 13 February 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Can we talk about climate change now?

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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.