Down with dogs. All dogs.

Dangerous dogs are a menace. But the rest of the species are bloody annoying too.

Some of you may know that I like a bit of a rant. Excuse me, then, if I stray away from domestic politics, foreign affairs, religion and culture and have a perhaps semi-hinged rant about a topic that really gets me going: dogs.

Now, there's been much news and comment in the papers this week about so-called dangerous dogs. I use the phrase "so-called" because, whether dog-lovers like it or not, all dogs are dangerous. The dog, after all, is a domesticated form of the wolf (the bloody wolf!). Oh, and there's a reason why dogs are classed as apex predators.

But, hold on, I can hear the cry from the canine contingent: what about those adorable, cute, little puppies who wouldn't harm a fly? Puppies? Harmless? Tell that to the parents of the two-month-old baby boy who was mauled to death by his puppy in Tulsa, Oklahoma in July 2008. In another case, back in 2006, a puppy chewed off a baby girl's toes while her parents were sleeping next to her. Surgeons couldn't save the girl's toes.

But vicious and vile puppies aside, there is indeed a particular and pressing issue with very dangerous and violent dogs in this country, and so I welcome the police unit set up to tackle "weapon dogs" and tasked with seizing more than 1,000 dangerous animals in its first year. I also back the call by Kit Malthouse, one of Boris Johnson's deputy mayors, for tougher sentences for criminals who use dogs to carry out vicious attacks. At Prime Minister's Questions, the Labour MP Angela Smith told the Commons about a "19-fold increase in the number of dangerous and status dogs in London since the early Nineties".

This is disturbing -- and nor is this just about London gangs and their "status" dogs. The denialism from the dog movement has to stop. Figures uncovered by the Tories suggest that 100 people every week, across the UK, are treated in hospital after being bitten by a dog (these figures don't include attacks by dogs on other pets).

One of the attacks cited in yesterday's Standard was on the railway engineer James Rehill, 78, "who was 'dragged like a doll' through the street in a fatal attack by his own dog in January last year. Witnesses looked on in horror as Mr Rehill was savaged by his Rottweiler in Newham." Every death is a tragedy -- but isn't Mr Rehill partly to blame for his horrible fate for keeping a Rottweiler as a bloody pet in the first place? Isn't this part of the problem? The dreams and delusions of the dog-lovers (and, especially, the "dangerous dog"-lovers) -- "My dog is great", "My dog is harmless", "My dog loves me", blah blah blah.

Love me, forgive my dog

This brings me on to dog-owners. They are perhaps more to blame for all this than their dogs. Many of them -- not all, I accept, but many -- are as inconsiderate, noisy, aggressive, unhygienic and in-yer-face as the disgusting and hyperactive mutts that they own, cosset, cuddle and parade in public.

Aside from the risk of being killed, mauled or bitten by a stray dog in a public place, I cannot stand the manner in which strange, overexuberant dogs feel entitled to touch you, lick you, jump on you, chase you and/or block you -- and the manner in which their owners instantly try to excuse or exonerate their misdemeanours. It is nothing short of antisocial behaviour.

How, for example, should we react to owners who allow their dogs to bark all night and ruin the sleep of their neighbours? What about those owners who allow their dogs to piss and poop in the street (and who knows what foul and disgusting deeds they allow their four-legged friends to get up inside their own homes)?

How do you explain the ridiculous way in which a negative reaction to their dog is regarded as the fault of the supposedly sanctimonious or party-pooping objector, and not of their own dirty, pushy and unruly animal? Oh, and why have our public parks become chaotic hellholes where no rules or limits seem to apply to dogs or dog-owners?

In fact, you may have guessed by now, and it might upset some of you to hear me say this, but I'm not, by any standards, an animal-lover. Unless the said animal is dead and on my plate. For me, animals, as they say, have two functions: to taste good and fit well.

But, in particular, I despise and loathe dogs (which, of course, have neither a culinary nor a sartorial function -- unless you live in South Korea). They are disgusting, dirty animals that should never have become pets, let alone such popular pets (there are an estimated eight million dogs in the UK. I feel like vomiting as I type out this gruesome and dispiriting statistic.)

Whose friend?

Dogs have become frustratingly ubiquitous in modern Britain. They're literally everywhere. Even homeless people have them. I for one refuse to spare any change for a beggar in an alleyway, who sits looking miserable with a dog on his lap. How do I know he won't spend my pound coin on Pedigree Chum, instead of a warm cup of coffee? And if he can't afford a roof over his head, should he really be wasting time, energy and money on a pet?

(The other depressing aspect of the homeless and the love for dogs is the manner in which members of the great British public -- animal-lovers to the core, but disdainful of the poor -- will often ignore and/or step over a prostrate beggar in the street but take a moment to give his ugly mutt a pat on the head. Bizarre.)

On a side note, I also have two isses with the ubiquitous phrase "A dog is a man's best friend": (a) Did anyone ask the dog? and (b) If you're someone who has no friends and needs dogs for company and socialising, fine, so be it, pathetic as that may be, but don't implicate the rest of the human race in your animal delusions, please.

Frankly, I share the rage, frustration and annoyance expressed so vividly by the comedian Mark Steel, in this classic Independent column, from November 2000:

The best insight I had into the mind of dog-owners was while I lived on a council estate, and one dog would regularly crap at the bottom of the stairs to the block. One day, I caught it in mid-dump, and asked the owner if he could not do it again.

He said, "Well, it's a dog; it's got to go somewhere." I pledged that if I ever became a millionaire, I'd hire a huge herd of buffalo and get them to gallop through his flat. And when he complained, I'd say, "Well, they're buffalo, they've got to stampede somewhere."

He adds:

Because owning a dog is fundamentally antisocial. It's practised by the same people who swerve their car across the road while shouting into their mobile, or jump in a swimming pool to do the backstroke diagonally from one corner to the other. I bet the proportion of dog-owners who vote Conservative is significantly higher than, say, of people who own a tortoise.

Is he right?

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Show Hide image

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.