Trimingham's loss is a victory for bi-phobia

The Mail's attacks on Carina Trimingham were unacceptable.

When Carina Trimingham lost her case against Associated Newspapers last week, the Daily Mail called it ‘a victory for press freedom’. It is actually a victory for a snide tabloid manipulation of subtext, manipulation of lingering sexual stereotypes, and for biphobia in the UK.  

Not only does this newly preserved press freedom make it perfectly OK to continuously invoke someone’s fluid sexuality as proof of their promiscuous, double-marriage-wrecking depravity, but specifically, in the case of Trimingham, to state that the reason her affair so devastated the wife of her lover, was “because [Trimingham] was a lesbian in a civil partnership, which is a public and legally binding statement of someone’s sexuality.” 

I didn’t realise that’s what marriage or civil partnership meant – an eternal fixing of your sexual orientation. I thought it was just a domestic arrangement thing, often undertaken for love, which may or may not contain an expectation of fidelity, depending on the privately agreed contract of the partners in question.  Nor that Pryce’s primary torturer wasn’t her husband of 26 years and father of her children, but the shape-shifting bisexual hussy that lulled Pryce into a false sense of security before snatching her man on a straight day. But while Trimingham’s bisexuality was decreed completely relevant to ‘the particular sense of betrayal’ she wrecked, in a column entitled ‘If the Daily Mail is homophobic, why on earth do I work for it, Miss Trimingham?’ Andrew Pierce (aka Institutional Gay Voice of Reason) explained why the paper couldn’t possibly be invoking malingering negative attitudes to those who refuse to lick only one side of the stamp: ‘[The judge] agreed that the words ‘lesbian’ and ‘bisexual’ are not pejorative, nor did we use them pejoratively. They were simply factual statements…what we expressed hostility towards was not her sexuality but her conduct” - that deceitful "bisexual" conduct that Pierce had already established was a particular betrayal.  If we as readers thought badly of Trimingham, that’s evidence of nothing but our latent biphobia, you understand, and nothing to do with the Mail’s relentless, undue referencing of her sexuality. And this, despite the fact that Mr Justice Tugendhot still conceded in his closing that: "The distress that [Trimingham] has undoubtedly suffered is the result of the publication by the defendant [Associated Newspapers] of the defamatory and true information concerning her”. Trimingham didn’t sue for defamation; probably because she didn’t trust the law to see the subtleties of how biphobia is perpetuated. The truth of her bisexuality, it seems, would only have got in the way.

After all, we all know what a decadent, rampant, out-of-control condition bisexuality is. If I had a quid for all the times I’d had a woman or man actively edge themselves and their partner away from me, been propositioned for a threesome, or badgered with a "could you just kiss my girlfriend? She’s really curious", being dismissed for not being ‘really into girls’ by gay women I’ve encountered, or asked "so what do you do when you’re in a relationship? Have the other on the side?", I could probably pay Trimingham’s £410,000 legal frees for her. But that’s just part of the switch-hitter’s privilege. As are all those voracious bisexual role models that litter literature, film and (specifically for women) lad’s mags, never running out of partners, only sometimes clean knickers. In recent years, I’ve started using "omnisexual" to describe myself, partly in a bid for inclusivity (I don’t think of gender as a rigid binary so who am I to exclude anyone who thinks that way too?) and partly because if my sexual orientation is going to get mocked anyway I might as well ham it up. Of course, this has only invited more anxiety, requiring my mum, streetwise university educator that she is, to call and ask if this included animals, and the Daily Mail itself to report on my "omnisexual" identity (with inverted commas) in a gossip column when I went to work for a conservative politics magazine a couple of years ago. Like it was "News", you understand.

What does the case of Carina Trimingham prove? Not only that the promiscuous bi stereotype dies hard, but that lack of commitment or respect for others doesn’t come into it when you’re bi - vacillating sexuality is the cause of, rather than the means for, disruptive infidelity – and the conservative faction of the LGBT community knows no better. As Harvard scholar Marjorie Garber put it: "Biphobia is based upon a puritanical idea that no one should have it all". Trimingham seems to have come away with very little, least of all her dignity. I hope she finds happiness with Huhne – and if she does, I await the Mail’s "Trimingham: straight all along” headline.

Nichi Hodgson is a 28-year-old freelance journalist specialising in sexual politics, law and culture.

Photograph: Getty Images

Nichi Hodgson is a writer and broadcaster specialising in sexual politics, censorship, and  human rights. Her first book, Bound To You, published by Hodder & Stoughton, is out now. She tweets @NichiHodgson.

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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.