Boris Johnson. We're delighted...'s campaign to help the Conservative Party with its London mayoral primary sees Bori

Cast your minds back a few weeks and you will recall that we at were urging our London-based readers to get involved in the Tory London mayoral primary.

For the price of a £1.50 phonecall and, regardless of your own voting intentions, you could register to have a say in who would go head-to-head with Ken Livingstone in the name of Conservatism...

There were four contenders: Victoria Borwick, Andrew Boff, Warwick Lighfoot and Boris Johnson. All were invited to pen us a piece and only Boris declined to do so. He was on holiday in America at the time.

Our interest in the Tory showdown, such as it was, was inferred in some quarters to be mischievous. Some seemed to think we were trying to convince people on the left of the political spectrum to get involved in order to scupper the blond bombshell's mayoral bid. A suggestion which hurt us deeply.

In fact, as I told the BBC's Brian Wheeler: "If you want the Conservatives to lose, it's true you could vote for the one you considered the most hopeless." But after all that could have been Boris, couldn't it?

And in any case, if stopping Boris was on our minds at - and I maintain the whole notion is questionable - we were resoundingly unsuccessful.

For it has been announced that the member for Henley will indeed go head-to-head with Red Ken, Green Berry and some Lib Dem or other in next year's contest.

In the primary Boris won 15,661 votes, Borwick got 1,869 votes, Boff 1,674 and Lightfoot picked up 609 votes.

It was one of those ballots that offers you four choices - you put '1' by your favourite, '2' by your second favourite and so on up to four times. I voted three times...

Actually come to think of it I may have voted six times because I left it all rather late and then having posted my ballot last thing on Tuesday thought 'what with the Post Office these days I'd better do it online' but I think we'd better skip over that detail.

So what happens next? Well it depends how you look at it. Maybe we are at the start of seven months of hilarity - London laughing all the way to the polls and then waking up to the hangover of a BoJo mayoralty.

Or perhaps, we will all get to sit back and enjoy ourselves as Lexus Dave's Conservatives unravel and Boris blunders with a series of gaffes that simultaneously offend everyone AND expose his almost total ignorance of the governance of one of the greatest cities on earth.

Or maybe he will surprise us all. Maybe.

Back to the Tory mayoral primary briefly. A Conservative Party spokesman said the contest had "captured the interest of the public and has helped challenge voter apathy". Not with under 20,000 votes from a City of 7.5 million it hasn't! But awfully well done for trying...

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.
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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.