Stay classy: Wake up London’s Vanessa Bafoe
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Capital punishment: the launch of London Live

There can’t be a human being alive who would willingly sit through most of the new station’s original output.

London Live

According to a certain newspaper website, on the evening of the launch of London Live, the capital’s new television station, its proprietor, Evgeny Lebedev, invited 30 friends over to his place to celebrate this historic moment. Stephen Fry, Liz Hurley, Andrew Neil, Tracey Emin, Ed Miliband – you know, just your average midweek crowd. Lord, how I would have loved to have been there, my hand deep in a bowl of salted almonds.

Assuming a flat-screen was in play, what did his pals make of it? And if, as I’ve read, Tony Hall, the opera-loving director general of the BBC, was in attendance, what was his reaction to London Live’s magazine programme Not the One Show (weekdays, 7pm)? At the least, it must have put the axing of BBC3 in a new light, for beside the incontinent wittering of Not the One Show’s presenter Louise Scodie, even Snog Marry Avoid? starts to look like something Lord Reith might have enjoyed. Poker faces all round, one imagines.

Like BBC3, London Live is aiming to attract a young audience. I don’t think it should hold its breath. It may be that some people will tune in to watch the programmes it has bought in – Misfits, Peep Show . . . er, London’s Burning – but there can’t be a human being alive, young or old, who would willingly sit through most of its original output (under the terms of its licence, the channel must screen five and a half hours of London “news” a day). Ten minutes is my unbroken endurance record so far, though with wine and a takeaway I might be able to make it to 12.

The first show I caught was London Go (weekdays, 6.30pm), a guide to all that’s happening in the capital. Or not. Outside the O2 in Greenwich, Maleena Pone was talking to people as they arrived to see Justin Timberlake. “Do you play an instrument?” she asked a schoolgirl fan. “I play the clarinet,” said the girl. “I think Justin would like the clarinet,” said Pone. Keen to build the excitement, she made reference to the “flood” of people coming her way. Three blokes duly sauntered past. She then handed over to her co-presenter, who was outside the Assembly Hall in Islington, north London. “What’s Justin’s favourite colour?” she asked him. “I don’t know,” he said. We flipped back to Pone but she didn’t know either. My God. Even now, I’m on tenterhooks. Could someone tweet me the answer? Still, on the upside, it seems there are loos at the O2. Try finding that kind of information in Time Out.

A comfort break for me – I soothed myself by banging my head on the kitchen table –  and then it was time for Not the One Show. (See what they did there? I’d be tempted to quote the proverb “A cat may look at a king” if The One Show weren’t so dire.) This programme comes from the London Live studio, which is roughly twice the size of Phillip Schofield’s old broom cupboard and has a Do It All aesthetic that DIY fans will adore (think bar stools). The young panellists, among them the homes and property correspondent of the Evening Standard, which has lately come over all North Korean in the cause of its sister company, were doing a news quiz. “I see a haystack and a needle,” said one, gazing at a photograph of, yes, a needle and a haystack. “Something is . . . lost.” It turned out that the thing in question was – stay classy, guys – flight MH370.

Does this stuff count as “current affairs”? It seems that London Live is hoping it does, its definition of “news” having to do mostly with “connecting” people, with persuading them to join the big “debate” (ie, send us your tweets, which will fill up minutes of airtime and cost us nothing). Unfortunately, its idea of what constitutes a debate-worthy issue beggars belief. When I turned on Wake Up London (weekdays, 6am), the breakfast show, the presenter was asking: which are better, cats or dogs? A “reporter” had been despatched to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home to gawp at cute kittens and droopy-faced mutts.

What’s that? You already knew there was a world-famous dogs home at Battersea? Oh, well. Plenty more insights to come. Next week: London Live reveals that Tower Bridge sometimes opens right up. Plus, cabbies: aren’t they comedians? Do send us your texts on that one!

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 09 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Anxiety nation

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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.