The Asian policeman who got uppity

Tarique Ghaffur is claiming that he was discriminated against in the police service, and some in the

In normal circumstances, there are few sins that the right-wing papers are not happy to pin on Sir Ian Blair. The commissioner of the Metropolitan Police usually appears in their pages as politically correct, accident-prone, a Labour crony, incompetent, obsessed with minorities, outspoken on the wrong subjects and fundamentally not a "copper's copper" of the kind they claim to prefer.

Yet when it came to the choice between Blair and Tarique Ghaffur, the little-known assistant commissioner who has accused his boss of race discrimination, some on the right suddenly swallowed their objections. The case hasn't even reached the industrial tribunal, but it seems the Asian officer is already in the wrong.

Amanda Platell, writing in the Daily Mail, gives a flavour of his crimes: "The Ghaffurs fled Uganda, settled here, and he went on to become the third most powerful police officer in the land, on a salary of £180,000 a year with an £85,000-a-year pension, plus a lump sum payout of £522,000. That enabled him to comfortably raise two children and support two wives and one mistress. Now he claims to be a victim of vile racism. What a hypocrite."

The implication seems to be that immigrants in well-paid jobs (like, say, the Australian-born Platell) are not entitled to invoke the laws against discrimination, but should just count themselves lucky - especially if they are not living in model families.

The Mail likes to imply that Ghaffur did not even get where he is on merit, commenting slyly, for example, on "how rapidly he had been allowed to move up the ranks" (my italics). In fact Ghaffur's rise was no swifter, for example, than Blair's - they both joined the service in 1974, and it happens that Blair has gone one rank higher - though somehow nobody comments on how rapidly Sir Ian "was allowed" to move up the ranks.

And the Mail also quotes Ghaffur's ex-wife, who told the paper: "I think he [Ghaffur] has benefited from positive discrimination." Again, having risen so high, supposedly with help from the colour of his skin, it seems that Ghaffur should simply be grateful for what he has. (And we should certainly not pause to consider if, perhaps, Ian Blair derived any advantage from the colour of his skin - would he be commissioner, for example, if he was black?)

Over at the Sunday Times, Rod Liddle shed a characteristically helpful light on this affair by informing his readers that Ghaffur's name was "pronounced 'guffaw', and with good reason". (These people insist on having funny names; it's such a gift.)

Liddle argued that politically correct people such as Blair ask for all the trouble they get in the industrial tribunals. "The more an organisation is in hock to the doctrine of affirmative action and what have you," he wrote, "the more likely it is that opportunistic members of staff from our ethnic minorities will use the institutionally anti-racist culture to screw some money for themselves, or a better job."

It's the old story, apparently. You let these people into the country and you even give them a leg up in life, and what do they do? They turn around, opportunistically, and accuse you of discrimination.

But it's even worse than that, because they don't just operate as individuals: they're organised. "Well-placed sources have suggested the case has been hijacked by militants linked to the National Black Police Association," says the Mail, which noted that when Ghaffur gave his press conference, he "sat between two expensive lawyers".

The same things used to be said about Doreen Lawrence. The implication was then, and is now, that while the person making the complaint may appear honest, others with sinister political motives are pulling the strings.

Well, Mrs Lawrence was no puppet, as those in the Met who underestimated her found to their cost. And as for the assistant commissioner, those expensive lawyers are quick to point out on his behalf that "Ghaffur is not stupid". (Is there an implication here, by the way, that someone in his position should really be using cheap lawyers? Now that really would be stupid.)

So, is Tarique Ghaffur justified in bringing a case of racial discrimination against Sir Ian Blair? I have no idea, though I am counting on the industrial tribunal to inform us. Do I believe that it is possible, in Britain today, for an educated, successful person from an ethnic minority to be subjected to discrimination by educated, successful white people of the kind who routinely insist they don't have a racist bone in their bodies? Oh yes. I am certain of it.

Now fancy that

My headline of the week comes from the Guardian: "House of Lords has south-east bias, says report." I mean, you just had to read on.

Brian Cathcart is professor of journalism at Kingston University

Brian Cathcart is Director of Hacked Off. He tweets as @BrianCathcart.

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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.