Load of old balls? No, football's crown jewels

I try to visit the National Football Museum in Preston most years, as it's so amazing, wonderful, marvellous and also depressing, because I think why do I bother, they have all the best stuff, how can I ever compete?

This twin reaction happened to me again this time - but the depressing bit was caused by some tragic news that has had little coverage in the national press, which I suppose is even more depressing.

The nice bit concerns the first World Cup Final, held in Uruguay in 1930, between the host country and Argentina. There was a lot of arguing before the game, surprising that, because each country wanted to play with their own ball, like kids in a playground. A compromise was reached whereby the Argentine ball was used in the first half and the Uruguayan ball in the second. Argentina were ahead with their ball at half-time, 2-1, but Uruguay went on to win 4-2 with their ball. Which proves, er, I dunno, but I bet Fergie, if he had been managing the losing side, would have been convinced the ref was a homer and the ball had a 12th man hidden inside.

For some years, the museum has had the Argentine ball on show, just one of its 2,000 historic objects (plus another 30,000 items behind the scenes). On my recent visit I found it now has the other ball as well, the Uruguayan one, loaned by a well-known wealthy collector. Oh joy, back together, after all these years. Footer fans can now ogle both balls.

Having studied them, I can see they are quite different. Both leather, but the panels in each are slightly different shapes. One ball looks a bit bigger and is missing a lace and is slightly more orangy - though not as orange as the 1966 World Cup Final ball, also in the museum. I was at the final in 1966, and in my mind's eye the ball was white. I must be thinking back in black and white.

Just a load of old balls, you might say, but I found it fascinating, and went to congratulate the museum's director, Kevin Moore, who has been in charge of the museum since it opened in 2001. Then, shock horror, he revealed it was closing. It has been attracting 100,000 visitors a year to Preston, not exactly known as a tourist trap, but it has had to face people, especially of a southern media inclination, being snobbish about poor old Preston - who would want to go there, where is it anyway?

The museum has been free since 2003, like all our national museums, and so it has had to rely on funding, plus its own enterprises. Alas, the main lump of money is being withdrawn. It's been coming from the Football Foundation, from its stadiums budget, and now it says it needs the money for that instead. So, at the end of this year, the National Football Museum at Preston, situated in purpose-built premises at Deepdale (the home of Preston North End), will close and all those treasures will be put into storage. I came away with tears in these tired old eyes.

However, here's a news flash. Manchester City Council has offered the museum a home in the Urbis building in the city centre, plus funding. It should open there in another year - and confidently expects it could attract 350,000-400,000 visitors a year. Pies all round.

Hunter Davies's latest book is "Confessions of a Collector" (Quercus, £20)

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 23 November 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Green Heroes and Villains

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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.