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Guest blog: The Daily Mail implies that the Philpott tragedy is the logical outcome of 'benefits culture' - shame on them.

(160 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 03-Apr-13 16:01:13

In a guest post today, MN blogger Rachel Coldbreath responds to today's Daily Mail front page.

Stop the press! Life's certainties have been updated. They now include death, taxes, and the Daily Mail trotting out a dollop of poorly-written hate speech, directed against the most vulnerable group imaginable.

On top of their already dreadful burden, today the Philpotts' surviving children have had to look at a front page that proclaims that they were 'bred... to milk the benefits system'.

We can only guess what must they think about their place in society and their worth to anyone. They are not alone in suffering as a consequence of these headlines, though. The Daily Mail's focus is as much on the notion that people on benefits are 'evil', as on the terrible crimes of the Philpotts and their friend Paul Mosley.

With the Mail insisting that Philpott's 17 children existed to 'net him £60,000 a year in benefits' (that figure is the Mail's), it is easy to lose sight of the fact that a large part of those benefits were for the care - the feeding, the housing, the clothing - of his children. Rather than a life of tax-payer-funded, sextastic Riley, the Philpott's living arrangements look more like crushing poverty.

They lived in a three bed semi with a third adult, Lisa Willis, and her children. Before Willis left that house (taking her children with her), there were three adults and eleven children living together. Even if we assume that the arrangement was cosy enough that all three adults shared a bed, that leaves two bedrooms split between eleven children. I am not sure under what circumstances this setup would be regarded as adequate housing. I am certain that it would not be regarded by any sane person as an incentive to stop working.

When Lisa Willis left the Philpotts' house, the DM informs us that she took with her 'more than £1,000 a month in benefit payments'. We are supposed to think this is an enormous amount of money. It's worth doing the maths here: between Willis and her five children, that £1000 is £166 per month, per person.

Each of those human beings was living on about £37 a week.

Yet the Daily Mail's headlines on this case suggest that murdering six of your children is almost the logical outcome of receiving benefits. As if people who are unemployed or poor for other reasons (disability, illness, being a carer for a sick relative), are an evil-eyed bunch, dodging their responsibilities, churning out children as fast as possible and, behind dirty net curtains, plotting their deaths for fun and profit while raking in great drifts of creased notes.

These headlines are perverse primarily for the fact that they paint Philpott's unique wickedness as an inevitable result of the system designed to pick us all up when we fall. And most of us fall, at some point.

Even as I type this with the BBC News channel on in the background, the presenter has just asked Ann Widdecombe: 'to what extent is [Philpott] representative of people on benefits?'

I am fed up to the back teeth with this rhetoric.

Anyone can lose their job. In fact, with the goverment eroding employee rights it becomes more likely every year. The job market is small and ferocious. Even if you are willing to take a zero-hour contract or part time work. 1,700 people famously applied for eight jobs at Costa, recently. There are 2.5m unemployed, and the government is cheerfully trumpeting about having created a million jobs, many of which are part time and of little help to people with children to feed (and 140,000 of which are people on unpaid internships, training schemes, apprenticeships and workfare schemes, and therefore still receiving benefit), while demonising the 1.5m people for whom there simply is no job.

The Daily Mail is singing backing vocals against the main melody coming out of the Palace of Westminster, from both leading parties. We hear of 'workers and shirkers', 'strivers and skivers'.

What we don't hear about is the people who are too ill or too disabled to work, or who are trapped in a jobless state by having to care for others who are. We hear about people dropping off the disability benefits list - always couched in terms that suggest that they were there fraudulently, never that their condition may have improved. We don't hear about people's already difficult lives being made impossible by the 'bedroom tax' and by ATOS assessments. Westminster and press rhetoric are complicit in the steep rise in the number of hate crimes and attacks against the disabled. We don't hear about that from the Daily Mail.

We don't hear about the people who are on benefits because they work, but are simply not earning enough to survive. Nearly a million households are in this position, and this group forms the majority of benefit claimants.

We don't hear about the people desperately searching for work, and failing to find it.

What we do hear about is the 120,000 'troubled families' the government is investing money in. We hear about the 190 families (out of a population of 56 million) with more than 10 kids, who are on benefits.

And we hear about Philpott. Not in the context of his being a violent human being who knowingly ended the lives of six of his children in order to 'get back at' a woman; but instead we hear him described in terms of how much welfare he took.

It is worth pointing out that the DWP's own figures place benefit fraud at 0.7%. There is little doubt that Philpott himself was in that 0.7%. He was a healthy man who simply did not wish to work. But to hold him up as an example of a whole class of people, the majority of which are on benefits AND working, is a vile trick to play on society. Its effects - not just on the poorest in society, but on us all - are profound. We are sold the same story again and again: that poverty is a choice and it is an immoral choice. That the poor are therefore immoral. That we should require them to suffer for having made this choice, that poverty is not sufficient punishment, they should also, as a class, be loathed.

This attitude fractures our society at its most fundamental level: the assumption that everyone else in it is a human being, that a stranger who falls in front of you on the street should be helped up, not kicked as you pass by.

Finally, I would urge you to read this excellent piece by Ricky Tomlinson. If only there were more like it.

Rachel Coldbreath spent 20 years working internationally as a technical specialist for law firms, before becoming disabled. She blogs on a variety of topics - from the news and politics, to gardening and how very annoying it is being disabled - over here. She tweets @Chiller

Great post.

libertyflip Wed 03-Apr-13 16:17:20

Great post thanks. I never really got the hatred towards the Daily Mail on Mumsnet, now I do.

Takver Wed 03-Apr-13 17:01:27

Really good post. Its not just the Mail, either - note how the Express managed to work the word 'scrounger' into their headline about this awful case.

Dawndonna Wed 03-Apr-13 17:27:23

Thank you, a bit of common sense!

Xenia Wed 03-Apr-13 17:30:03

I think you need to read the press reports. Mr Wonderful slept in a caravan in the front garden to get some peace away from the women and children. He then spent alternate nights/or sex sessions with the wife and mistress until the mistress left.

This case has brought it home to hard working full time working mothers that these scroungers exist. Most benefit fraud of course is never found out and not in the figures. The sooner we limit benefits to two children only the better.

Viviennemary Wed 03-Apr-13 17:34:04

I thought Ann Widdicombe summed it up very sensibly. But she is a sensible person.

Dawndonna Wed 03-Apr-13 17:36:08

Go away Xenia we're bored now.

Choccyjules Wed 03-Apr-13 17:51:40

Interesting list by Ricky Tomlinson too.

Great post.

Xenia Philpott has a 35 year history of violence and abusive behaviour do you really think capping benefits would have changed that? How would capping benefits have stopped him stabbing his ex-girlfriend 13 times whilst he was working?

AnAirOfHope Wed 03-Apr-13 18:01:21

I totally agree with that post and i wish more people relise that most people on benefits WORK

AnAirOfHope Wed 03-Apr-13 18:05:21

Lets get everyone fighting each other so noone notices what the government is doing to our country and the rights they are taking away.

Varya Wed 03-Apr-13 18:08:06

How sad these poor children were murdered in this way. Words fail me for the perpetrators, a really horrible crime.

AnAirOfHope Wed 03-Apr-13 18:11:37

Workfare found to be illegal in a court of law. The Govenment is now trying to change the law.

Assessing disabled people if they can work by nonedoctors.

Bedroom tax without making smaller council housing available so people have no chose but to pay.

Child Benefit is more for marraged couples than lone parents.

tungthai Wed 03-Apr-13 18:34:49

Both of the women worked didn't they?

tethersend Wed 03-Apr-13 18:54:10

" Most benefit fraud of course is never found out and not in the figures."

grin

Of course.

If the facts don't back up my naive rhetoric, then the facts are wrong.

How silly of me not to have realised.

jennywren45 Wed 03-Apr-13 18:58:07

Both of the women worked didn't they?

But sporadically, temporarily and part time. Certainly not enough to keep a family of 11 children and three adults.

Xenia Wed 03-Apr-13 19:14:23

Workfare was not found illegal in that court case. It was just found that the consultations or something had not been done so that is being corrected. The judgment did not say workfare itself is wrong and thank goodness. Most hard working tax payers are very much in favour of workfare as why should people be paid to do nothing? There is huge public support to make work pay and Labour and the Tories both know that. It is a topic that unites most people (except Guardian reader mumsnetters)

JakeBullet Wed 03-Apr-13 19:33:33

Because of course without workfare, benefit claimants go to seed eh Xenia? hmm

I was a "hardworking taxpayer" now I am a benefit claimant so shoot me!

JakeBullet Wed 03-Apr-13 19:35:35

...and you are wildly off topic anyway, fact is that the crappy Mail laid the blame for the deaths of six children on the Welfare state. Because of course the middle and upper class worker never ever commits murder/manslaughter/any crime.

Me23 Wed 03-Apr-13 19:42:48

Excellent post rachel, very well put.

tethersend Wed 03-Apr-13 19:50:12

I'm a lazy taxpayer.

IneedAsockamnesty Wed 03-Apr-13 19:56:39

FFS why can't we just have a conversation about something being wrong or offensive with out Xenia and her merry band wagon of 'hard working mothers' (because of course the rest of us don't count as hard working) turning it onto a benefit bashing thread.

Fine come on and say oh its not offensive because I agree that yes benefit claimants are murdering scum. But why the fuck do you consistently have to derail every single thread that contains the word benefits. Just for once can you not stick to the point. that very clearly being that the op thinks the way this was reported was wrong its really not got much to do with the rights or wrongs of benefits.

This man is a abuser and a murderer with a long history of abuse he also claimed benefits of some description none of these make it ok to dehumanise 6 dead children he already did that himself.

chiller Wed 03-Apr-13 20:00:22

Thanks for the positive comments, everyone. It's always a pleasure poking my head above the parapet on Mumsnet!

stella1w Wed 03-Apr-13 20:08:58

Great blog

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