Uncivilising influence

Observations on football and violence

The 2007-2008 football season has drawn to a dramatic close, with riot police repeatedly deployed to disperse hooligans. There was a difference, however. Twenty years after government initiatives sought to attract women to matches, in the hope that they would be a civilising influence on male fans, in many recent incidents women have been prominent among the troublemakers.

Violent clashes between police and Rangers supporters during the Uefa Cup final in Manchester last month resulted in the arrest of two women for disorderly conduct. A week later, riots erupted in Fulham Broadway, south-west London, as Chelsea fans spilled out of pubs after their team's defeat in the Champion's League final in Moscow. Of 200 or so rioters, an estimated 50 were women.

One who gave her name as Christy justified her participation: "We weren't looking for a fight, but when the police started to get a bit rough, everyone started throwing whatever we could get our hands on. I know just as much [about football] as the blokes, all the rules and stuff. I've been known to get in a scuffle or two. My boyfriend's usually the one holding me back." Her claims of expertise are backed up by a 2005 survey which revealed that female supporters' understanding of the offside law is superior to men's.

Yet in spite of this gender development, attitudes to female football supporters remain strikingly sexist. One man who witnessed women throwing bottles and punches at Fulham Broadway said female fans only wanted "to watch Beckham's legs and marry Wayne Rooney". A policeman regularly deployed at football grounds, who conceded that women were increasingly engaging in disorderly behaviour, rejected the idea that rowdy female fans could be serious about the sport. "The girls are just trying to impress the boys, aren't they?" he said. "They've had one too many Smirnoff Ices."

In terms of drinking, he has a point. Women comprise up to one in five spectators at Premiership matches, but they often constitute half of those watching in pubs and bars. Grounds can ban alcohol at matches where violence is anticipated, whereas licensed venues show sports expressly to sell more drinks, and more women are rivalling men in consumption. Crime statistics from 2006 show that 28 per cent of those cautioned for drunkenness were women, up from 8 per cent in 1989.

John Williams, director of the Centre for the Sociology of Sport at Leicester University, sees the recent events as "spontaneous drink-related expressive hooliganism" born of disappointment, rather than a return to the premeditated violence that used to plague football in Britain. Female aggression, he says, is a way of "legitimating their involvement on the night as 'loyal' fans or 'game' spouses or partners".

This compulsion for women to demonstrate their passion for football through thuggery is not surprising given the scepticism with which many men treat their interest in the sport. While male chauvinism is likely to preclude women from playing a hardcore role in organised hooliganism around football grounds, it cannot prevent women from conducting themselves in the gender-neutral territory of the pub as aggressively as their male counterparts. It's equality of sorts.

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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.