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Don't just boo the player, boo the club

“I’m so depressed,” I said to my friend Jack as we left White Hart Lane after Spurs’ humiliating defeat by Norwich.

“I’m more depressed,” he said. “At least you still like Harry.”
We continued like that all the way home, with me clinging on to the thought of ’Arry as a symbol of, oh, I dunno, something.
Jack, who thinks Harry is a phoney, was forcing me to give reasons why Harry is good: what has he done, who has he discovered, why are Spurs useless at free kicks, why was Harry not ranting and raving and changing things at half-time? And so on , with me saying, pathetically, that I still like him. I’m rubbish at intellectual arguments, whereas Jack, as a barrister, well, it’s his job, innit.
“It’s only the media who like Harry.”

False pretences

I had to pause and think. I am not technically media any more, not at Prem games, since the rotten old Prem League imposed a £5m insurance cover in order to get a press pass and the poor old NS can’t afford that.
I can see that the media love Harry as a character, as I do, but I still think that the fans are on his side, though surprisingly, in that Norwich debacle, there were many who were beginning to mutter against Lovely Luka and Gorgeous Gareth, how dare they?
Intellectual arguments in football are pointless, anyway. Who can possibly explain the collapse of both Man City and Spurs, when early in the season they were doing so well, playing so fluently, so effortlessly, in such style, with such confidence?
What caused it? You tell me. You’re clever. I refuse to believe it was caused by Harry being tipped for England. Sheer coincidence. Spurs just look knackered. And it’s Harry’s job to unknacker them.
I did find myself during the Norwich game uttering the odd boo under my breath, feeling I had been personally let down – nay, affronted – by what appeared to be their attitude, even though I knew it could only make things worse. 
Having talked to so many players, I know they don’t know what happens, why they appear in certain games not to be trying. They can’t help it, poor petals. And I know it does mean more to them than us. It’s all they’ve got. So should fans boo? We’ve paid a fortune, so surely that gives us the right. Or does it?
I can’t think of any comparable activity where customers get conned into paying a whole year ahead for a product that is unlikely to be exactly what they expect and might well turn out total rubbish.
Season ticket renewals start next month, with clubs demanding and getting £1,000 to £2,000 in advance to watch teams whose stars might not be there, or might be playing in different divisions and tournaments.
Only football could get away with trading on such false pretences. Most Prem clubs know there are waiting lists, so they can take cynical advantage. So, yeh, we should boo more, but at the clubs, not just the players.
In defence of fans, it only takes the merest glimmer of hope – a really good tackle, a strong run and then, oh, rapture, a shot at the goal that doesn’t end up in Tottenham High Road – and we are all cheering and roaring them on.
And as we all know, that does have an energising effect. We can and do help. But it needs something to latch on to. The Norwich fans kept it up all through the game but they could see, from the kick-off, their players were knocking their guts out.

Daydream believer

We also know that things can change, fortunes turn round in just a few games. Look at Arsenal, booed by their fans just months ago. Man United, not booed by any fans as far I observed but roundly criticised by the back pages as useless, finished, too old, too injured. Now look at them.
Spurs did try harder in the FA semi-final against Chelsea but a lot of good it did them. Their luck ran out.
I still have some belief in Harry, unlike my friend Jack. But my main football belief is that this is what it is like, will always be like – and all fans have to go through this at some time. Coming home depressed after a Spurs game is excellent practice.
“For what?” Jack asked.
For watching England in the summer, of course. 

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 23 April 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Islamophobia on trial

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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.