A band of brothers

Suicide is the second most common cause of death among men under 35. This must change.

When you look at the data about the lives of men in comparision with women, the statistics paint a clear picture. Starting at the most extreme end, of the 6,045 people in the UK that took their own life in 2011, 4,552 of them were men. This works out at over 12 men per day. More men under 35 died from suicide in the UK than road accidents, murder and HIV/Aids combined.

In education, there is a well-documented gap between boys and girls; both in performance and aspiration. In 2011 the gap between the proportion of girls gaining A* or A grades at GCSE and that of boys hit a record 6.7 per cent, up from just 1.5 per cent in 1989. Just 30 per cent of male school-leavers applied to university in 2012, compared with 40 per cent of their female counterparts. Boys are "permanently excluded" from school at a rate four times higher than for girls.

As for crime, men are perpetrators of over 90 per cent of violent crime in the UK. If you believe, as abandofbrothers do, that "hurt people, hurt people" and that violence is a manifestation of prior psychological woundings on the part of the perpetrator rather than the expression of an inherent evil, then this too points to the disadvantage of men and boys.

As a society, can we ignore these statistics? We face huge challenges in the world on almost every level – economic, ecological and social. If male and female are indeed the two wings of humanity, can we afford to keep flying round in circles? Can we continue to ignore the cost of damaged men? This cost is felt in economic terms (if men were to commit crime at the same levels as women we would save £42bn a year based on Home Office figures) and also in a unmeasured and immensurable social cost.

"If the young men are not initiated into the tribe, they will burn down the village just to feel a little heat." – Ancient African Proverb.

Arguably, where masculinity is most in crisis is amongst young men at the bottom of the socio-economic pile. Abandofbrothers would argue that this is a failing on the part of society. The "job" of giving young men a sense of purpose and meaning, so that they feel connected to (rather than resentful of) those around them is crucial, and one that cannot be done solely by employees of the state.

At abandofbrothers, our mission is to offer young men a rites of passage experience and mentoring to help them make the difficult transition into healthy adulthood. We give them a place to heal, to explore and be encouraged not just to "become a man" but to become their own man. We do this by creating empathic communities of older men who will give themselves in service to mentoring and supporting young men who need it.

To create these communities, we connect potential mentors to their hearts, enable them to find a resolution to their own emotional traumas so that they can better attend to the needs of their communities, and especially, the young.  It is time consuming and emotionally difficult. It’s also the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life.

My own first son is due to make an appearance in the world in the next few weeks. When he asks me what I was doing in the early part of the 21st century, when it became apparent that we faced huge challenges in creating a sustainable future, I will be proud to say I was one of the few, the lucky few, who were engaged in trying to create connected, resilient and joyful communities that were better equipped to weather the storms ahead.

For more information on abandofbrothers, please see

A man alone on a backstreet in Liverpool. Photograph: Getty Images.

Nathan Roberts is the Chief Executive of abandofbrothers.

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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.