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2012: The year in sexism

Twelve months of disgraceful discrimination.

January. It is reported that on average a measly two out of ten speakers on the BBC’s Today programme are women. (Later in the year, John Humphrys is reduced to asking a man to “imagine” he is a woman in an all-male panel on breast cancer.)

February. The US radio-show host Rush Limbaugh calls the student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” for speaking in favour of contraceptive coverage in health insurance plans. But at least he finally provides a decisive answer to the question: “How much of a tool do you have to be to make 67 firms pledge never to advertise on your show again?”

March. The infamous Uni Lad website returns after a brief hiatus and promptly begins spewing the same misogynistic vitriol about “smashing wenches”. (Minus its previous advice that low rape reporting rates represent “good odds”. So that’s better.)

April. The Sunday Times TV critic and noted Adonis A A Gill claims that the classicist Mary Beard is “too ugly for TV” and “should be kept away from cameras”. She gently points out that he has accidentally “mistaken prejudice for being witty”.

May. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in Gaining Weight While Pregnant Shocker. The media and thousands of fans lambast the Indian actress for failing to shed the extra pounds immediately post-partum. Special mention to those who accused her of “betraying her country”.

June. Two issues of Now magazine appear side by side on newsagents’ shelves. One reports that the model Abbey Clancy is “dangerously thin” and girls are starving themselves to look like her. The other offers diet tips to get her figure. Meanwhile, the European Commission launches a breathtakingly patronising video aimed at encouraging women into science: a masterpiece of dancing and giggling, with a pink background and make-up montages.

July. The blogger Anita Sarkeesian faces a viral hate campaign after merely proposing research into the tropes of women in video games. One geek feels so strongly that there is no problem with the portrayal of women in the medium that he creates an online game where players can punch Sarkeesian in the face.

August. In the US, the Republican science enthusiast Todd Akin proclaims that women’s bodies are magically able to ward off pregnancy in cases of “legitimate” rape. (To be fair, his research efforts were hampered because Mitt Romney had the binder full of women that day.)

September. “No More Page Three” campaigners are stunned into humiliated silence when the former Sun deputy editor Neil Wallis stymies them with the shock revelation that there are other problems in the world. Admirably, the Sun covers these important issues on page two, which incidentally doubles as the crucial buffer zone between the outraged anti-Jimmy Savile campaign on the front page and the teenage tits on page three.

October. Netmums pronounces feminism dead, on the somewhat amusing basis that only one in seven women self-defines as a feminist – giving it a nationwide “membership” numbering just under 4.5 million . . . more than ten times that of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties combined.

November. PlayStation decides it’s a great idea to advertise its new Vita console using a picture of a woman with two sets of breasts and no head. I’ll just repeat that one. They advertise it using a picture of a woman. With two sets of breasts. And no head.

December. Just as I’m worrying that nobody will be stupidly, noteworthily sexist enough in the first few days of December to meet my deadline, FHM rides to my rescue in spectacular style with its astounding, assaultnormalising advice that readers shouldn’t borrow socks from their girlfriend/mother/victim. Cheers, FHM! Job done.

Author’s note: potential entries from Mail Online’s “sidebar of shame” were regrettably omitted from this article, amid rising concerns over the NS ink budget

This article first appeared in the 24 December 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Brian Cox and Robin Ince guest edit

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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.