Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow in January 2014. Photo: Getty
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If you’re going to gossip about the failure of a celebrity marriage, at least make it original

Now that Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin have split up, brace yourself for weeks of repetitive jibes at her “craziness” and his “reticence”.

Ladies and gents, it’s happened again: another celebrity marriage has gone down the shitter. Yes, the break-up – sorry, “conscious uncoupling” – of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin has been making headlines in the last 48 hours, after an announcement on Paltrow’s infamously irritating blog caused the server to crash within minutes. “It is with hearts full of sadness that we have decided to separate,” the admittedly poignant post ran. “We are parents first and foremost, to two incredibly wonderful children, and we ask for their and our space and privacy to be respected at this difficult time.”

Predictably, it didn’t take long for someone to get their claws out. Anne Perkins, for instance, branded Paltrow’s whole psychological take on the break-up “deluded tosh”, reminding the couple “you have messed up other lives. It is quite likely that the only person feeling good about all this may be you. Hope that thought doesn’t mess up the inner cathedral.” Clearly, Perkins prefers the tough love approach, rather than the cosy psycho-babble offered up by two doctors quoted on Goop who suggest dealing with a break-up by changing your belief structure and embracing divorce as a spiritual progression. Including advice on how to navigate a divorce in the same breath as announcing your own is very Gwyneth Paltrow.

And yes, it’s true that including an excerpt from two alternative-thinking doctors on how divorce has “much to do with the lack of intercourse between our internal masculine and feminine energies” comes across as – for lack of a better term – wanky. But then again, who hasn’t been a colossal wanker when some seriously upsetting, life-changing event has knocked them for six? People whose lives feel like they are unravelling tend to be notoriously difficult to stomach – it’s a rare person who hasn’t had a Kristen-Wiig-in-Bridesmaids moment at some point, producing the behavioural equivalent of throwing oneself through a gigantic cookie in rage and then attempting to upset a concrete fountain while screaming, “Is this what you want? You and your delicious cookie?!” We’ve all been there. And if you’re Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin - a kale evangelist and a prominent member of one of the most boring bands in the world – it seems fitting that you would freak out via the medium of “conscious uncoupling”.

As entertaining as this may be for the rest of us, there’s no denying that the Paltrow-Martin family are most likely experiencing an expected amount of emotional fallout. “Internal masculine and feminine energies” and “divine endoskeletons” aside, all evidence points to the fact that they both remain human, and experience human feelings. So what’s about to follow, despite their pleas for privacy, is as depressing as it is predictable: paparazzi photographers hidden in bushes outside their houses, faux-sympathetic Daily Mail pieces that speculate on the damage done to their children (with accompanying creepy kiddie photos), front page covers of gossip magazines proclaiming the “woes of tragic Gwyneth”. Because, let’s face it, we know that it won’t be “tragic Chris” who adorns the pages of everything from the Mirror to Grazia. It’s Gwyneth all the way.

Perhaps it won’t even be Gwyneth, in fact, but “Gwynnie” or “Gwyn”. That’s the tack a lot of celebrity commentators take with women in the throes of a break-up: diminutive nicknames, hyperbolic sighing about how “devastated” the woman in question must be, snide remarks about how her male counterpart is probably “out partying” or “seen eyeing up” a Miley Cyrus lookalike. A month or so later, photos which might otherwise be no purported cause for alarm are suddenly sold as evidence that “Gwyn loses scary amounts of weight as divorce takes its toll,” or – if she happens to be smiling – “GP proves that you can get through a break-up and still look fabulous, as she shows off her newly toned body so Chris can see exactly what he’s missing”. The worst, however, will be if an unfortunate angle catches a small roll of stomach fat or an unflattering double chin: immediate evidence of “Gwynnie losing grip and piling on the pounds as rumours grow of Chris flirting with size six party girls at an unconfirmed sex party”. Mark our words: in the eyes of the media, Gwyneth will be “tragic”, “heartbroken”, “sad”, “losing grip”, or at the very best “brave”; Chris will be a party boy celebrating the loss of his old ball and chain, at the very worst “cold”.

The fact that female celebrities will be consistently portrayed in this way after a break-up or divorce is implicitly accepted by everyone, journalists and readers alike. We rarely stop to wonder why the woman is supposedly an emotional wreck or a binge-eating mess while her ex escapes scot-free, with the space to lose or gain weight as he pleases without fear of the long lens or the “circle of shame”. Nowhere does the stereotype about women being crazed hormonal harpies and men being restrained, logical decision-makers play out more obviously in the twenty-first century than in the gossip media. Sadly, Paltrow no doubt knows this, and is probably already concocting a strategy with her agent for when the shit hits the fan. Expect all of those claims of her “turmoil” to be followed up by interviews a few months down the line, hoping to “set the record straight” about those “turbulent few weeks without Chris by her side”. Time and time again, we see this kind of damage control come into action; without it, the gossip mill just keeps on churning in a negative direction, a crazed whirlwind fervour surrounding the woman and the woman only.

We can’t change the entire structure of gossip magazines, but we can keep loudly questioning why they operate in this way. Because you don’t have to be a regular reader of Heat to be affected by what’s written on the front of it; like Page Three, it’s a sexist institution that needs to be called to account, whether or not you consider the Sun a bastion of quality journalism or not. So we make a plea here to all the writers poised to pick over Gwyneth’s thigh muscle and armpit hair: please, don’t do another “crazy lady and reticent bloke” job on G and C’s relationship. Even if you have to be bitchy (well, you are gossip columnists), we enjoy our bitchiness with a healthy dollop of diversity. Make it seething, if you must, or make it sympathetic. But over and above both of those things, please, for the love of God, make it original.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

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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.