Blacks do 8 in 10 gang rapes? If so, we should be told

This week, I chaired a discussion show on Channel 4. The current affairs department had commissioned a small independent company, Laurel Productions, to make a 30-minute documentary on young people's sexuality.

The programme drifted into dangerous territory: gang rape. And it stated that juvenile blacks were the biggest culprits. Black youths aged 12-17, the programme tried to establish, are responsible for the rape of black girls. A trawl through the courts revealed that, in 80 per cent of the cases of gang rape, the defendants are black. The victims did not appear but actors were used for reconstruction, which only served to heighten the drama.

Further, it portrayed most of the cases taking place on my home turf, Brixton. Young women were hijacked from bus stops, taken to homes or to filthy common spaces on council estates and raped time and time again. One girl claimed that she was unable to walk for a month thereafter.

Laurel Productions spared no detail. This is the most delicate area of race relations imaginable. The producers could have made a different programme, perhaps on gang rape in general, without focusing specifically on blacks. They chose not to. They went in our faces, as it were, and the programme and the producers were perfectly entitled to go down that road.

Channel 4, finding that it now stood knee-deep in controversy on race, called me in to chair an impromptu discussion on the programme and invited a former commissioning editor, Farrukh Dhondy, to be the executive producer. The participants were a small, tight group of the black intelligentsia in the main plus a representative of the offending programme who could not be blamed if she thought that Channel 4 had thrown her to the wolves.

Chris Boothman from the Commission for Racial Equality was the wolf in chief. He was supported by Tony Sewell, columnist of the Voice, and, albeit more gently, by Donu Kogbara, a freelance journalist who felt that a black independent should have made the programme.

The other women in the discussion, young Caribbeans, would not have any of it: they rejected the arguments that the programme would send out the wrong signals to the white community, that it was a smear and that it was atypical of the hundreds and thousands of young blacks who did not rape.

By the end of the evening, the entire panel seemed to agree that Channel 4 was right to show the film; there were still arguments over how it was made but these were mere quibbles.

I had three very specific interests in all this. First, I have often championed the cause of young blacks over the years. Second, I am the father of a juvenile. Third, I live in the heart of the black community in Brixton and I am very likely to see the parents, the victims and the convicted rapists in the course of any week. Nevertheless, I say: broadcast and be damned. As readers of this column know, I give little quarter to those who beat the racial drum. I expected huge opposition to my views. It has not materialised.

Anyone who is bringing up children in the inner city, particularly if they are male, will face the absolute horror of what their lives are and will be. They will face death by the blade or the gun. The statistics on this speak volumes. Schools are dreadful, inner-city filth recalls the degeneration of urban life in the developing world. There is nothing for these children in or out of school. I offer to take any reader to places set up by Lambeth council for young people. Apart from anything else, they are physically filthy: there is a complete absence of facilities and ample opportunity to gather in pursuit of the salacious, the vicious and the nefarious.

As I stood in the studio denouncing those young rapists, I held in my mind how miserable inner-city life has become for them and their parents. Allah be praised.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 20 November 1998 issue of the New Statesman, A prejudice as American as apple pie

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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.