Grayling pleads guilty to hitting the working poor

Tax credit changes mean some families will be better off on benefits, welfare minister admits.

Chris Grayling's startling admission (£) that tax credit changes mean some working families will be better off on benefits is an important moment. The welfare minister has pleaded guilty to the toxic charge that the government is penalising the working poor.

George Osborne's decision to remove tax credits from those who work fewer than 24 hours a week means 212,000 couples with children will lose up to £3,870 a year. Asked by Labour MP Ann Coffey what would happen to a family working 16 hours a week on the minimum wage, Grayling revealed that the weekly income of a couple with two children would drop from £330 to £257. That's significantly less than the £271 a week that they would receive on out-of-work benefits. In a letter to Osborne today, the Child Poverty Action Group warns that the policy puts "470,000 children at risk of being plunged into poverty".

Grayling's defence is that the anomaly will be resolved next year when the Universal Credit replaces all benefits and "makes work pay". Indeed, the same family will be £95 better off under that system. But until then, Ed Miliband has a potent attack line for PMQs. In one move, the government has undermined its claim to be on the side of working families, rather than "welfare families".

The government has suggested that couples will be able to increase their hours to retain the working benefit but this only makes it look even more out of touch. As the Resolution Foundation's Vidhya Alakeson noted: "In today's economy part-time workers are likely to find it extremely difficult to negotiate extra hours in any case." There are already 1.35 million people working part-time because they can't find a full-time job, the highest number since comparable records began in 1992.

Whether or not the Lib Dems secure a significant increase in the personal allowance, this policy will do nothing for those part-time workers who don't earn enough to pay tax. Now, to add insult to injury, the government is clawing back £73-a-week from their families. This may or may not be the long-awaited "10p tax moment". But the creation of a disincentive to work means the government is now failing even on its own terms.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Is there such a thing as responsible betting?

Punters are encouraged to bet responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly.

I try not to watch the commercials between matches, or the studio discussions, or anything really, before or after, except for the match itself. And yet there is one person I never manage to escape properly – Ray Winstone. His cracked face, his mesmerising voice, his endlessly repeated spiel follow me across the room as I escape for the lav, the kitchen, the drinks cupboard.

I’m not sure which betting company he is shouting about, there are just so many of them, offering incredible odds and supposedly free bets. In the past six years, since the laws changed, TV betting adverts have increased by 600 per cent, all offering amazingly simple ways to lose money with just one tap on a smartphone.

The one I hate is the ad for BetVictor. The man who has been fronting it, appearing at windows or on roofs, who I assume is Victor, is just so slimy and horrible.

Betting firms are the ultimate football parasites, second in wealth only to kit manufacturers. They have perfected the capitalist’s art of using OPM (Other People’s Money). They’re not directly involved in football – say, in training or managing – yet they make millions off the back of its popularity. Many of the firms are based offshore in Gibraltar.

Football betting is not new. In the Fifties, my job every week at five o’clock was to sit beside my father’s bed, where he lay paralysed with MS, and write down the football results as they were read out on Sports Report. I had not to breathe, make silly remarks or guess the score. By the inflection in the announcer’s voice you could tell if it was an away win.

Earlier in the week I had filled in his Treble Chance on the Littlewoods pools. The “treble” part was because you had three chances: three points if the game you picked was a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home or away win. You chose eight games and had to reach 24 points, or as near as possible, then you were in the money.

“Not a damn sausage,” my father would say every week, once I’d marked and handed him back his predictions. He never did win a sausage.

Football pools began in the 1920s, the main ones being Littlewoods and Vernons, both based in Liverpool. They gave employment to thousands of bright young women who checked the results and sang in company choirs in their spare time. Each firm spent millions on advertising. In 1935, Littlewoods flew an aeroplane over London with a banner saying: Littlewoods Above All!

Postwar, they blossomed again, taking in £50m a year. The nation stopped at five on a Saturday to hear the scores, whether they were interested in football or not, hoping to get rich. BBC Sports Report began in 1948 with John Webster reading the results. James Alexander Gordon took over in 1974 – a voice soon familiar throughout the land.

These past few decades, football pools have been left behind, old-fashioned, low-tech, replaced by online betting using smartphones. The betting industry has totally rebooted itself. You can bet while the match is still on, trying to predict who will get the next goal, the next corner, the next throw-in. I made the last one up, but in theory you can bet instantly, on anything, at any time.

The soft sell is interesting. With the old football pools, we knew it was a remote flutter, hoping to make some money. Today the ads imply that betting on football somehow enhances the experience, adds to the enjoyment, involves you in the game itself, hence they show lads all together, drinking and laughing and putting on bets.

At the same time, punters are encouraged to do it responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly. Responsibly and respect are now two of the most meaningless words in the football language. People have been gambling, in some form, since the beginning, watching two raindrops drip down inside the cave, lying around in Roman bathhouses playing games. All they’ve done is to change the technology. You have to respect that.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war