1938 - An African point of view


The Wakamba are an African tribe about 400,000 strong, who live in Kenya on the east side of the Athi River. Cattle are, as they have been for centuries, the Wakamba farmer's currency, the symbol of his standing in the tribe, and the indispensable traditional token in every ritual and domestic ceremony. Since the white man came to Kenya, the Wakamba have suffered from a shortage of land. In the old days, they used to graze their cattle over a wide area, shifting from one district to another, and making seasonal use of the Yatta plateau, where the best grazing land is now reserved for Europeans. Today, they are crowded into inadequate reserves, like all other native tribes of Kenya.

When too many cattle are grazed on too small an area, the inevitable result is erosion of the soil. Having deprived the Kenya peoples of the best of their land, the Government authorities advise them to cut down their cattle to match. They assert that this is in the best interests of the people themselves, and that it is only short-sightedness and ignorance of the principles of good husbandry which make cattle-owners object to reducing their stock. The cattle-owners, however, object strongly. They know that before the white man came they could possess as many cattle as they liked without in any way endangering the tribal welfare.

This May, the Government decided to reduce the Wakamba cattle by half. The chiefs refused to co-operate so the Government organised a forced sale and 1,485 cattle were sold, at an average price of less than £1 per head. Unanimous in their resistance, the Wakamba sent a petition to the Colonial Office which throws a new light on the Government policy:

"Recently [it says] a European company has erected a factory for the canning of beef and other meat products on land adjoining the Athi River Station. It seems that, as a result, efforts are being made by the administration to ensure a steady supply of cattle for slaughter at that factory. Whether because there are no, or not enough, European-owned cattle to keep the factory going, pressure is being brought to bear on our tribe to dispose of our stock. It is being stated that our reserve is over-stocked and such overstocking is the cause of soil erosion and that is being made the excuse for compelling us to sell our cattle to the company owning the factory at a price being a quarter or less of the market price. Ordinary prices vary from 50s to 100s."

The petition goes on to describe how the District Commissioner informed the Wakamba that their cattle were to be sold at a fixed price of 12s per head, and that those which were not compulsorily sold would be branded with a Government mark. The people refused. Three successive meetings were called to try to persuade them to agree, but the Wakamba spokesman insisted that there were markets all over the district, and that anyone wishing to purchase cattle should do so at those markets at the ordinary market prices. The forced sale in May is the sequel to this struggle. The petition sums up the Wakamba view:

"We feel that it is a strange doctrine which lays down that one should not possess more than a certain number of cattle, or more than a certain amount of money, for that, in effect, is what the order means. We cheerfully pay our taxes and would equally cheerfully pay more, each according to his means, if the extra taxation were for our benefit, but the policy of compelling even the poorest among us - those who have three cows must sell two and keep one - to contribute to the profits of a wealthy concern, is not understood by us."

Mr Lionel Curtis, writing on another African question, once made a significant observation: "A British official of long experience in the Dominions once said in my hearing that no Government can be trusted to enforce veterinary restrictions on purely veterinary grounds." This is worth quoting, as many British readers will feel that no British administration could be guilty of the underhand intentions implied in the Wakamba statement. The Government has certainly incurred the suspicion, to say the least, of using its power to benefit a European firm at the Wakamba people's expense. In a country which lives by cattle-farming, few things could undermine trust in the Government more fundamentally.

The people of England object to Fascism; they are ready to fight to save other democratic countries from coming under the Fascist or Nazi yoke. But if ever they have to fight in earnest, they will need the wholehearted support of the colonial peoples themselves. How can they expect that support unless they convince them that British methods are different and that British claims to stand for democracy and freedom are true?

Jomo Kenyatta
General Secretary
The Kikenya Central Association
15 Cranleigh House,
Cranleigh St, London NW1

This article first appeared in the 29 November 1999 issue of the New Statesman, An explosion of puffery

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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.