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Derby day and not a hooligan in sight

Hunter Davies' "The Fan" column.

When we came to London in 1960, we lived first of all in a flat in the Vale of Health in Hampstead, in the middle of the Heath. Then, in December 1962, we bought a house in NW5 on the less desirable side of the Heath, the only house we could afford – price £5,000. They called it Parliament Hill Fields, which you still see written on the C2 bus, but today the local estate agents have rechristened it Dartmouth Park.

So, 50 years of living here, in this same house, and 50 years of going to Spurs. Why Spurs? Hmm, I often ask myself that. Especially today – as I have just got back from watching Arsenal-Spurs.

My true allegiance is to Carlisle United, whom God and the sheep preserve, but I wanted a London club to support, nail my colours to, and Spurs back in 1962 were the better team, having won the double. I have loved them madly ever since, but over the decades I have also gone to watch Arsenal. Today, though, was my first trip of the season to Arsenal. What a mistake.

Geographically, there was not a great deal in it. In the Sixties it took roughly the same time to get to Arsenal as to Spurs. Now, as in so many other ways, the gap has widened. I always used to drive to either place and could easily park, three or four streets away, nae bother. Now, you’ve got no chance. Traffic generally has got about ten times worse in the past 50 years but going to Tottenham, having to negotiate several busy high streets, it seems 20 times worse.

Arsenal has also got easier because it has moved nearer. Yes, they were very considerate when they built the Emirates, plonking it down nearer to us than Highbury.

Another big difference, as you have asked, in these 50 years, is of course the hooligans. In the Seventies and Eighties, when it was the Spurs-Arsenal derby, at either place, I used to fear I might not get home in one piece. You would try to duck down a side street, which appeared empty, then a wild army would suddenly sweep down, screaming and shouting, followed at a safe distance by cops.

Today, you never see fights in the street, at either place, or gangs of marauding lads looking for trouble. This is my experience, my observation, so it was interesting to have it confirmed by a new Home Office report. Last season, arrests at football matches in England and Wales dropped by 24 per cent compared with the previous year. There were no arrests at 74 per cent of games. Football-related arrests are now at an all-time low. Good, huh.

Sky high

I assume it’s partly to do with the price – it now costs a fortune so the hooligan lads can’t afford it. I paid my next-door neighbour, who has two Arsenal season tickets, one of them spare today, £83. A good seat, but not the best. That would have cost me £123.

He moaned all the way there about greedy Arsenal and the enormous prices for season tickets. They now have three categories of home games, A, B and C, and change the prices accordingly. Can you guess what they are?

The A games are Chelsea, Man United, Man City, Liverpool and Spurs. The B games –QPR, Fulham, West Ham, Newcastle, Stoke, Villa, Everton. QPR presumably sneaks in as a B because of London, not their quality. The low-class C games – one does feel sorry for them, poor things – include Sunderland, Southampton, Swansea and West Brom. Bit unfair on West Brom, who have turned out good this season.

Being middle class does not of course mean the language is any better than it used to be. Every time Arsenal went up for a corner, all the Gooners round me started shouting, “Big fucking German, we’ve got a big fucking German.” And low and behold, Mertesacker lumbered into the penalty area.

Could this be described as racist – to call a German a German? And would it be abuse to use the F-word about him? Hardly, when the chant was a clearly a mark of endearment.

Arsenal won 5-2, and the BF German did score. Spurs collapsed after 17 minutes, when that idiot Adebayor got himself sent off, much to the delight of the crowd. The game was over as a decent contest. It can happen, that ten men do better than eleven, but rarely. I do think, when tickets cost so much, that fans should get 1/22 of their money returned, as they have paid to watch two full teams. That could be up to £6 back.

In 1962, with £6, you could have bought the Spurs players a beer and a packet of Woodbines when they went to the local pub after the game. Which they did, oh yes. A long time ago, 1962.

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 26 November 2012 issue of the New Statesman, What is Israel thinking?

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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.