Coming out to colleagues can help you cope, and 'hope', better in the workplace. Photo: Getty
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Is perseverance the key to coping as an LGBT employee?

There is evidence to suggest that a high level of psychological flexibility, something LGBT employees often need to develop at work, can help people cope better, and indeed flourish, in the workplace.

The challenges faced by LGBT individuals in the workplace, and the impact these challenges can have on their mental health, are well-documented. But with Mental Health Awareness Week fast approaching, I’d like to go one step further and focus not only on the difficulties faced by LBGT employees, but how they can rise up and meet these challenges.

Significant steps are being taken in attempting to understand how LGBT employees’ cope with the challenges they face in the workplace. From this research, the concept of perseverance is emerging as key.

Let’s talk for a minute about what LGBT employees may face in the workplace. To begin with, disclosing one’s sexual and/or gender identity can be a huge source of anxiety for some people. It can involve a series of tricky and stressful calculations about the potential costs and benefits of coming out to one’s colleagues and boss.

If one manages to negotiate coming out at work successfully, there is always the potential issue of negative or discriminatory behaviours to contend with. These may be subtle, and even unintentional, such as people making bizarre assumptions about someone’s interests or activities based on their sexual and/or gender identity – for instance, the assumption that your gay male colleague will have the ability and/or desire to advise you on your fashion issues. However, they may be more insidious, such as when LGBT people are intentionally denied promotions, career advancements and access to important resources.

But the issues I describe are not purely based on my own observations. Ample research has indicated that both coming out, and experiences of discrimination in the workplace, can have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of LGBT employees.

Yet studies have shown that perseverance, or the ability to bounce back when beset by problems, may offer LGBT employees some protection from these challenges. For example, Kwon and Hugelshofer (2010) found that the characteristic of hope (or the belief that one can persist through challenges and accomplish one’s goals) buffered the impact of workplace discrimination on LGB employees’ wellbeing. In another study, Smith and Gray (2009) drew attention to the importance of hardiness (or the ability to shake off setbacks and proceed even when success seems uncertain) to LGBT people’s coping efforts.

I am currently working to add to this field by examining psychological flexibility in LGBT employees. According to already existing research, psychological flexibility describes a form of perseverance in which people are able to take actions towards achieving their goals and values, even when they are experiencing difficult or unwanted internal events.

Whilst psychological flexibility has not yet been examined in LGBT employees, there is evidence to suggest that people higher in this quality are better able to cope, and indeed flourish, in the workplace.

In addition, while people have naturally occurring levels of psychological flexibility, it is also a quality that can be enhanced through training, and research has indicated that such enhancement can, in turn, improve work-related health and performance.

This latter point is particularly important because it leaves the door ajar in terms of utilising psychologically-informed training interventions to help LGBT employees cope with the stresses of being out in the workplace.

It would be quite easy to get disheartened by the fact that LGBT employees may have to work hard at persevering in order to survive the stresses of being out in the workplace. But unfortunately in-group favouritism and out-group discrimination appears to be a natural human tendency.

Many organisations are doing a great job of promoting LGBT rights and implementing strategies to prevent unfair treatment of LGBT employees, and I would recommend they pay heed to psychologically-informed solutions to help support this. But until the day comes where LGBT discrimination is no longer an issue, we’ll need to keep on persevering.

Dr Jo Lloyd, Institute of Management Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London

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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.