Keeping some of footie’s dirty talk would be a good save

With the demise of Sky's Andy Gray and Richard Keys and the end of prehistoric sexism - some chance - will another form of outdated, ancient language disappear when more presentable presenters take over? Oh, I hope not.

Keys seemed a harmless, smarmy, fluent creep, but I don't think I ever listened to him, for I always leave the room when the studio discussion starts. I watch football for the football, not the inane chat. I can get that at home.

Gray was harder to avoid, as he commentated on the actual match, but he did seem full of himself, a big swinging dick - God, is that sexist language, I'll be for it - but I thought he was observant, even if most of his earnest, pseudo-technical wizardry was laughable.

What I couldn't understand was why his fellow commentator Martin Tyler, who is sensible, knowledgeable and calm, was so deferential, referring to "Mr Gray" - and not ironically - bowing to his superior status, just because he had once been a bullet-headed footballer.

The language I worry about disappearing from football is industrial. I don't mean swearing, as obviously that will not go, no more than it will go from the mouths of cabinet ministers speaking to each other, barristers together in their chambers, or well-bred girls out on the piss. If anything, we are in the heyday of bad language. Everyone is at it. As a lad, I remember sitting on a train and a man letting slip a "bloody" in front of a woman. He was chucked out of the compartment.

The root of industrial language in football is industrial. Players doing their job are giving a "workman-like performance". Coming off the pitch, they have "put in a good shift". The notion of a shift suggests they really have been down the pit.

If a player stays with the same team for more than a season, or even just half an hour, he is said to have been "a loyal servant to the club". This always makes me laugh - as if top players were not multimillionaires, among the richest young men on the planet, with total freedom to go where and when they like and say up your bum to anyone.

When a player defends well, he "is doing the business". When he clumsily goes over the top, it is an " industrial tackle". When the team mounts a series of good attacks, they are "building up a head of steam".

Back to mine

I like to think the use of these phrases and images - and they are peculiar to football - go back to our industrial past, when football began, and when players did work down the mines for a few years till they got signed. The language lived on, handed down through the generations, and was used in street football, which the young Andy Gray would have played.

Another leftover from this industrial past is that you still see the players' wages referred to in weekly terms, not as annual salaries, as with most other jobs today.

So John Terry will be said to have negotiated a wage packet of £200,000 a week - as if that is what he gets in his horny hand, with a neat wage slip, after having queued up meekly on a Friday evening. In real life, he never sees it, as it disappears into some distant financial labyrinth.

Football commentators and fans, also using language passed down, still refer to players “on the park" when of course players have played on proper pitches, not parks, for over 100 years - unless they are in the lower divisions and have to practise on municipal playing fields.

I have heard Andy Gray compliment some striker for "turning on a sixpence", a coin that has not existed since Britain turned decimal in 1971. Older fans in Scotland still talk about a "tanner ba' player" - a tanner being a traditional term for a sixpence.

When the new, young Sky presenters take over, fresh from fee-paying schools, football's industrial language will disappear for ever. Which will be a shame. I have been sweating down the football mine, doing endless shifts for so long, I quite like the history.

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 07 February 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The New Arab Revolt

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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.