How Mick Philpott case and the welfare debate collided
Depiction of the child killer as a product of the welfare state sparks outrage as row over cuts intensifies
THE Daily Mail's front page depiction of child-killer Mick Philpott as a prime example of the UK's "benefits culture" provoked outrage today as the week's two biggest stories collided in spectacular fashion.
A day after George Osborne defended his welfare reforms amid heated media debate over attitudes towards the poor and those on benefits, the Mail dramatically upped the ante with its coverage of the shocking court case.
Philpott, who, along with his wife Mairead, was convicted of the manslaughter of six of their children in a house fire they started on purpose, was described by the Mail as the "vile product of welfare UK".
But the Mail was not the only paper that flirted with the benefits issue in its coverage of the "evil" father-of-17, who was condemned in all quarters for his "shameless" lifestyle.
The Sun reflected: "Philpott may be the dregs of humanity. But the welfare system helped him every step of the way... When benefits are so generous, easily obtainable and dished out indiscriminately, they can debase humanity — a point Labour and the churches refuse to grasp."
But the Mail's decision to cast him as a "drug-taking layabout, who embodies everything that is wrong with the welfare state" caused fury and social media sites like Twitter exploded with rage on Tuesday night.
Even before today's reports were published, concerns had been raised over how the case might be presented. Writing in The Independent, Owen Jones warned: "The truth is that the Philpotts say nothing about anyone, except for themselves, just as the serial murderer GP Harold Shipman said nothing about middle-class professionals.
"There are, and have always been, a small minority of individuals capable of breathtaking cruelty. The Philpott case relates in no way to people on benefits in this country."
He later described the Mail coverage as "shameless, grotesque [and] vile".
His comments echoed the concerns of those who have accused the government of trying to portray those on benefits in a negative way in order to garner support for their cuts.
"The divvying up of our people into those who contribute - taxpayers - and those who take - dossers, scroungers - is an emotional as well as a political mindset," wrote Suzanne Moore for The Guardian this week. And last week Polly Toynbee accused the Times, Telegraph, Mail and Sun of refusing to present their readers with the full story on government cuts.
Others, like Fraser Nelson writing for The Spectator, accuse liberals of being members of the "chattering class" and failing to understand that the public are in favour of the reforms.
But are both sides of the debate out of control? After seeing the Mail coverage Telegraph blogger Dan Hodges concluded: "One thing is certain. The man responsible for this act of barbarism is Mick Philpott, not William Beveridge."
He said the assumption that Philpott was representative of the benefits system was simply "wrong", but also criticised the "equally hysterical" reaction of many on the other side of the debate.
"Two things are very clear. Headlines like the Mail's, and lazy characterisations of those on welfare as 'scroungers', 'chavs' or the 'shameless generation' add nothing to our understanding of this complex issue. But nor does the similarly frenzied, emotive and immature language being deployed by welfare's self-styled defenders."