Russell Brand's Week

The village women giggled. Was it the giggle of sexual intrigue, or were they amused by my attire?

While in Marrakesh perusing a souk for trinkets and souvenirs, I was accosted by an inconveniently racist stereotype. A Moroccan gent, wearing the attire one would expect of a North African Muslim – pillbox hat and full-length tunic – rushed up to me, arm outstretched, crooked fingers groping, language spilling from between his brown teeth, glaring at me menacingly with one eye as the other swam in a swirling lactose mist of indifference. Oh, and he had a monkey on a chain, which I assume was the reason he was approaching me.He was the monkey’s agent, trying to cut a deal for a photo.

I was able to pigeonhole both the man and his monkey quickly due to my childhood love of Indiana Jones films. The monkey in particular I knew was not to be trusted, as in part one of the trilogy a primate identical to the one now clawing at my ankles poisoned Indy, having pretended to be his friend for most of the first act.

Also, North African gents with crooked teeth and milky eyes seldom emerge from Hollywood movies with much credit. I seem to recall reading in a Joseph Campbell-style book of myth analysis that characters who limp are untrustworthy, as they literally cannot walk a straight path. And though I don’t remember any specific comments on milky eyes, I think they’d be viewed as myopic and possibly demonic.

“Hello,” I thought, “unless Hollywood films are lying to me, this pair could get me into all sorts of scrapes – not to mention completely derail my mission to recover the Ark of the Covenant.”

Later, when I contemplated the unforgiving manner in which I’d Littlejohned the unsuspecting duo, I felt rather guilty, and sought consolation in the further assumption that the man had probably used a similar mechanic in his judgement of me – “Why, look at that moneyed tourist. He’ll be worth a few quid . . . and what terrific hair.” (Most likely he didn’t bother to include a critique of my barnet, but that’s no fault of mine.)

Later in the trip I visited the north Atlas Mountains as the guest of a Berber farmer who took me to his home. As it was accessible only by mule, I teetered up the mountain path atop my jaded steed. Once there, I toured his mud home, meeting his wife and children, and lunched on too much couscous and drank tea that disappointingly involved getting a tea bag out of a silver-foil vacuum pack. I didn’t say anything but my disillusionment was tangible. (Was the couscous Uncle Ben’s?) Did the people of the village feel alienated from the rest of Morocco, I asked Mr Brahim. Did they vote? He mistook my questions for a request for more tea, which may I say was bitter – as bitter as the disappointment that it was essentially laboriously concocted Typhoo.

As we wandered back down the mountain, no mule this time, we passed the women of the village doing laundry in a stream. They giggled as we passed. I like to think it was the nervous giggle of sexual intrigue, but it’s quite likely that they were amused by my inappropriate attire – cowboy boots, skintight jeans, eyeliner – what any narcissist would don for a stroll up the Atlas. Amid these maidens may’ve dwelt the angel allocated for my salvation, but I’ll never know. No words exchanged, I glanced back to further ascertain whether the chuckling had been derisory or flirtatious,

but Mr Brahim was an unwilling wingman and shepherded me back to the luxury penitentiary where I belonged. How many loves and friendships are forgone for lack of inquiry? Perhaps the milky-eyed souk man could’ve been a soulmate, I’ll never know. I wouldn’t trust his monkey though; he was a right little bastard.

Russell Brand's autobiography, "My Booky Wook", is published by Hodder & Stoughton (£18.99)

Julian Clary is away

Russell Brand guest-edited the New Statesman in October 2013. Find him on Twitter: @rustyrockets.

This article first appeared in the 03 December 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Russia’s fragile future

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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.