Sex, children and Mail Online

The Daily Mail campaigns against the sexualisation of children. Meanwhile, its website runs pictures of 14-year-old Kylie Jenner in a "tiny wetsuit" and "skimpy bikinis". What's wrong here?

Kylie Jenner is “seen posing up against a rusty old truck” with her sister, Kendall, in their “flirty white dresses.” With “much longer limbs” than their more famous siblings they “made the most of their trim pins”. Later, Kylie changes into an olive-green gown “which is skimpy around the bust area”, and “works her magic in front of the camera”. She has less modelling experience than Kendall, a swimsuit model who “is envied by millions of girls … for her lithe figure,” but is catching up, and loves “posing for the cameras”.

Kylie Jenner is 14 years old.

She is the daughter of Olympian Bruce and Kris Kardashian, and stepsister to Khloe, Kim, Kourtney and Rob. Her sister, Kendall, recently turned 16. The quotes above are all taken from a single Mail Online article, which is just of one of dozens written about the young girls. A more recent headline reports that they “don tiny wetsuits for a day at the beach”. The article is based on a picture that Kendall posted on Twitter; it was spotted by the all-seeing Daily Mail Reporter, who apparently felt that 14- and 16-year-old girls wearing “very short wetsuits” would attract clicks.


Elsewhere on the site, six photos appear of the “teen bikini queens” soaking up the sun. Daily Mail Reporter describes them as “exhibitionists” who “display maturity and a lifestyle far beyond their years”. Fourteen-year-old Kylie is “not exactly shy!” as she “gets dressed in full view of passers-by”, an image Mail Online editors feel must be shared with the world. Days later, Daily Mail Reporter is shocked - shocked! - to find that the Kardashian family have included the two girls in a “raunchy home music video”. The “sexually-charged” performance features “teenagers Kendall and Kylie dancing suggestively in skimpy bikinis” and “shaking their bottoms for the camera”. The Mail show a picture of the girls, captioned Too young?” In case readers still aren’t sure, they helpfully provide the full video too. 


Of course the Kardashians court publicity. The Kardashian name is a brand, and the family are a business built around the meticulously stage-managed performances of people who have chosen to live life as low-brow art. One can criticise adults for making that choice, and say that they deserve to reap the consequences of their actions; it is not so easy to dismiss the plight of a 14-year-old girl who - like any princess destined for a throne - has her choices made for her. Her family created the photo opportunities, photographers decided to take pictures of her posing in a bikini, picture agencies bought and sold the snaps, and newspaper editors chose to run them. At no stage in this celebrity industry assembly line does anybody seem to have considered whether it was appropriate to exploit a child in this revolting fashion.

At 14, Kylie has come late to celebrity. Six-year-old Suri Cruise, daughter of Tom and Katie, has been featured in more than six hundred Daily Mail articles - almost one for every three days of her life. In 2010 the Mail reported that the four-year-old was spotted snuggling up in her pink 'blankie',” observing that: “the comforter has been a constant feature in little Suri's A-list jetset life, and it seems that she isn't quite ready to give it up”. If this seems ‘cute’ to you, imagine this sort of obsessive media scrutiny applied to you or your child at the same age. No wonder that in 2008 the Mail could report that: Suri Cruise may be only two years old but it seems the toddler has already developed a dislike for photographers.”

The next stage, surely, is for the intrepid Daily Mail Reporter to venture through the vaginas of pregnant celebrities with a microphone and a handycam, in order to rank the relative cuteness of famous foetuses. Of course MailOnline's editor, Martin Clarke, told the Leveson Inquiry that “we don’t report pregnancies unless confirmed by the subject”, but as TabloidWatch reported recently they’re happy to cover rumoured pregancies; whether revealing that Megan Fox is “still staying mum” about her “growing ‘bump’,” or asking whether Gisele has “something to hide?” Clarke and his competitors are leading us into a brave new world where people can be celebrities from conception to grave.

As worrying as this is, it is the treatment of teenage girls that is most worrying. The Jenners are far from the only targets - Jimmy Saville-Row at Vice Magazine recently highlighted, the Mail’s alarmingly frequent use of the phrase “all grown up” to describe adolescents, to which I would add the equally creepy “older than her years”. The coverage of Kick Ass star Chloe Moretz at the age of 14 contains some classic examples: looking “all grown up” she was “every inch the classy young lady” at a film premiere, for example. All this comes from a newspaper campaigning vigorously against ‘sexualisation’ and its impact on children.

Remarkably, there is nothing in the PCC code to stop Mail Online publishing images of young children accompanied by such commentary. Section 6 of the code, focusing on children, says that “young people should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion” and that editors “must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child’s life”. In the case of Kylie Jenner, a celebrity under construction placed firmly in the public domain by her parents, neither rule really applies. That is a state of affairs the Leveson Inquiry would do well to consider. If Paul Dacre’s concerns about sexualisation are genuine, then perhaps he might like to consider it too.

Martin Robbins is a writer and researcher. Find him at The Lay Scientist or on Twitter: @mjrobbins

Kendall and Kylie Jenner are regular fixtures on Mail Online. Photo: Getty Images

Martin Robbins is a Berkshire-based researcher and science writer. He writes about science, pseudoscience and evidence-based politics. Follow him on Twitter as @mjrobbins.

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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.