How Mick Philpott case and the welfare debate collided

Apr 3, 2013

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."

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Disqus - noscript

I pity this family,having been dragged into courts and accused injustly of murder.The fire was accidental.The hatred of people and their bloodlust make me sick.

blame the benefits culture,that same culture M Thatcher started because she had made all the miners unemployed and stuck them on the sick so as not to inflate the unemployment figures...Hence the start of the benefits culture. It had to start somewhere..

The whole case seemed to be based on his potential loss of income ....... Child benefit. Read the court case and clearly he controlled the welfare income. Bleat all you like, the whole story is based upon the end product of welfare state taken from safety net to living system.

Andres Brevik was a fan of the Daily Mail. And their political positions.

So, is he the end product of right wing politic?

Seems to me that Dan Hodges is an anti-welfare apologist with tact. The fact still remains that the Mail tarred every person on welfare, including those on incapacity benefits, with the Philpott brush - shameful 'journalism' at its poorest

He didn't kill immigrants.

the arson was pre-meditated..... don't kid yourself

i think you should be angry with yourself!! they killed their children!! how can you identically pour petrol all over your house set it a lit and call it an accident. are you delusional?


Have you ever been there? I lived there; Allenton, Derby. It's a dosshole full of scrounging chavs. Yes, Philpott is an extreme, but for the most part the long-term jobless choose that lifestyle and Blair's crackpot army provided them with the victim excuse whilst we're out at work funding these selfish slobs.

This is not so much a direct response to the latest front page (though it provoked the timing) but rather a long-held opinion of that rag’s general standard: 'Oh, Daily Mail'

Oh Daily Mail, you never fail

To hurl your hateful bile.

The lengths you’ll go to,

Depths you’ll sink to

To divide our British Isles.

You’re like a pack of ‘dangerous dogs’

Snarling, salivating, even

As you choose your Dish du Jour

Weaving bigotry galore

Just to voice your crass assumptions

Irrespective of the facts:

Feeders seeking mass consumption

Of your mal-adjusted crap.

So up yourselves with indignations

Planks form in your spiteful eyes

You take a teeny speck of truth

And loosen with dictated lies

Then dolloping with ill-informed

Opinion, calmly generalise.

All you know is pettiness

And gross ambition for sensation

Signifying nothing more than

Tawdry, superficial piffle

Based on wild extrapolations

Never missing any chance to

Incite eejits with conflation.

Braying at the cellulite; the cup size

Of some poor old cow

Spread-eagled through your poisoned print

That judges what is “public interest”

By the mileage you can mint

In spite and groundless vitriol.

Discarding all integrity

Forsaking grace

For prejudice and other nasty schisms

As you waive away your intellect

For bloody awful journalism.

Oh Daily Mail! You parable!

You’re fecklessness perfected!

A pedlar of our new age ills

Pervasiveness personified

Exemplar of the modern shill

A very paragon of everything that’s so defective.