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Full transcript | Ivan Lewis | Speech on culture and the media | Labour Party Conference, Liverpool | 27 September 2011

"Mr Murdoch, never again think you can assert political power in the pursuit of your commercial inte

I want to begin my speech today with some thank yous.

To my brilliant team Gloria de Piero, Ian Lucas, Ian Austin and Ian Murray for their commitment and support during the past year. To Sophie, David and my constituency team for their endless patience and sound advice. But most of all to you.

Those of us who sit at the top table of the Labour Party in Parliament should never forget the debt of gratitude we owe to the party activists, trade unionists and party staff who in every community in every part of this country are the heart and soul of this great movement.

Conference, the history of the relationship between this Party and the Murdoch press is a complex and tortuous one. But what can never be complex or tortuous is the responsibility of politicians to stand up for the public interest without fear or favour. That is why today please join me once again in paying tribute to the courage and tenacity of Tom Watson, Chris Bryant and John Prescott for the service they have done to our country in exposing the phone hacking scandal.

And let us also recognise that when the country reacted with revulsion to the news that Milly Dowler's phone had been hacked while the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister dithered, it was our leader Ed Miliband who day after day provided the leadership which was needed and spoke for the nation when he said, enough is enough.

Of course, we must wait for the police to do their work and the Leveson inquiry to report. But there are some lessons we should learn now.

Firstly, never again can one commercial organisation have so much power and control over our media. In the period ahead, Labour will bring forward proposals for new tougher cross media ownership laws.

Secondly, in Britain a free press is non-negotiable. It was brilliant investigative journalism primarily by the Guardian which forced a reopening of the police investigation when too many vested interests simply hoped it would go away. But with freedom also comes responsibility. Neither the current broken system of self regulation or state oversight will achieve the right balance.

We need a new system of independent regulation including proper like for like redress which means mistakes and falsehoods on the front page receive apologies and retraction on the front page. And as in other professions the industry should consider whether people guilty of gross malpractice should be struck off.

Thirdly, a message for Mr Murdoch. Your newspapers and Sky TV are popular with millions of British people. Some people in our Movement might find that uncomfortable but it's true. However, and yes Conference, we should have said this a long time ago. Mr Murdoch, never again think you can assert political power in the pursuit of your commercial interests or ideological beliefs. This is Britain, Mr Murdoch. The integrity of our media and our politics is not for sale.

And Mr Cameron, I believe in second chances too. So, let me give you another chance to level with the British people. Isn't it time you and George Osborne came clean about why you appointed Andy Coulson in the first place and despite numerous warnings took him to the heart of our democracy at No 10 Downing Street?

Conference, in just over a year Jeremy Hunt, has gone from rising star to the long list of wannabe former potential Prime Ministers. This Tory-led Government have decimated our world-leading school sports system, launched a concerted attack on public investment in the arts, threatened many libraries and are marginalising creativity in our education system. At a time when jobs and growth should be a top priority their VAT increase is bad for tourism, and delayed broadband roll out, bad for business.

The height of their ambition for London 2012 is to deliver a successful event. In stark contrast to Labour's Olympic legacy vision to deliver the biggest expansion of sports participation in our history.

But Conference, criticising them is not enough. As Ed has said this week, we have to give people a sense of how we would do things differently. So let me give you some examples.

The success of our creative industries is at serious risk due to global competition, the impact of the new digital economy and the policies of this Government. If these industries are to provide the British jobs of the future we need a government committed not to a helpline but an active, industrial strategy.

Earlier this month, Ed and I launched Labour's new creative industry network. The network will pilot a fairness pledge to encourage these historically closed industries to open up their internships, apprenticeships and jobs to people based on talent, not social background or family networks

I am delighted to announce today that Channel 4, Virgin Media, UK Music, The Royal Shakespeare Company, The Advertising Association and the Sharp Project have agreed to sign up to this pledge. We hope many other businesses and organisations will follow suit and break down barriers which have no place in a 21st Century Britain.

Conference, we should be proud of Labour's ground-breaking free admissions to museums and galleries. And proud of our great local, national and global arts institutions. This party should celebrate, not be embarrassed by cultural excellence. But we should be concerned that in whole swathes of our country north, east, south and west there are still too many communities which don't have fair access to great theatre, live music, art, opera, history or heritage.

Conference, cultural inequality offends Labour values. In the same way that every community expects fair access to education, the NHS and policing. We should ask how do we harness the excellence of our great cultural institutions to enrich the lives of all our citizens from the great metropolitan centres to the inner cities and rural communities.

I am not arguing in these difficult times for more spending. But even after the cuts £542million is being spent via the Arts Council and National Lottery. As we shape new cultural policy for the future let us lead a national debate about what fair access to the arts and heritage should mean.

Conference, in future I also want us to be radical in putting sport at the heart of our policy agenda. Sport is a health policy, an education policy, an economic policy and a community cohesion policy.

Equally, it is time to ask some fundamental questions about the relationship between grassroots and high level professional sport. To use football as an example. The Premier League is a tremendous commercial success and in many ways has rejuvenated our national game. But can it be right that last year they turned over 2 billion pounds and top flight players are earning an average of 72 thousand pounds per week. While the Football Foundation's funding which supports improvements to local pitches and changing facilities can only scratch the surface of need and is now being cut.

Surely, not only the kids but the thousands of soccer and hockey mums and dads, volunteer coaches and organisers who are the hidden heroes of our grassroots sport have a right to ask how this can be fair. They have a right to expect our Party to ask those questions. We will not let them down. And can I also be clear, as we meet today in this great city of Liverpool, when Parliament resumes Labour will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Hillsborough families in demanding the full disclosure of all government documents relating to that horrific tragedy.

Conference, let me end by saying this. The first Labour Conference I attended was not as a special advisor but a steward. I was told to look out for any dodgy looking delegates. Believe me it was a full time job!

I would never have dreamt that I would have the chance to serve nine years as a minister in a Labour Government and become a member of the Shadow Cabinet.

But I didn't join the Labour Party in order to join the establishment. I did so because I had a burning desire to help build a more just society. I didn't want to explain the world as it is, I wanted to change the world. Twenty-two years on that burning desire is as strong as ever.

We should oppose this Conservative-led Government when they are wrong with all the strength we can muster. But we must also be the party of change offering a different vision for a better future. That is what I intend to do.

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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.