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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

Darkesteyes Sun 07-Apr-13 16:26:38

Xenia i wasnt talking about a normal employment contract. I was talkiing about workfare.
You said most people are in favour so if thats the case A4e would NOT need claimants to sign confidentiality clauses.

Darkesteyes Sun 07-Apr-13 16:31:42

Xenia i just caught your comment about the Philpot case being "a brilliant case for benefits"

That has to be the most despicable thing ive ever seen on this site.

Xenia Sun 07-Apr-13 19:15:59

It's wise to have confidentiality clauses because yo do not want people at your premises telling others about all kinds of secret things from formulae to prices to internal business matters. You are very unwise if you have anyone to work for you without imposing confidentiality clauses.

The deaths of the Philpot children are very very sad and I am sure their parents did not intend them to die. No one suggests otherwise . However it has certainly helped all political parties to see just how many people are in favour of reduction in benefits - it is a massive vote winner in all surveys at present. If some good comes from the deaths it may be that the system is changed to mean that work pays and we can help people not into dependence but into independence and having to make their own way which is much much better for people than the current system which simply keeps them down.

flaminhoopsaloolah Sun 07-Apr-13 19:39:45

And how do you suggest making work pay, Xenia? I can't see the likes of Tescos and Starbucks wanting to pay a living wage any time soon....

letsgetreadytoramble Mon 08-Apr-13 07:53:05

Interesting point about helping people out of dependence Xenia - funnily enough, one of the best ways to do that is by stimulating the economy so that more jobs are created - that is one of Labours main aims. It is most certainly not the Con's aim. Their rhetoric is all about making things 'fair' for people who are currently in work - there's nothing about creating jobs for those unfortunate enough to be in receipt of benefits. So if you truly do want to help people to get off benefits and into jobs, you'd be better voting for the party who actually want to achieve that.

Xenia Mon 08-Apr-13 08:21:23

The Tories have a house buidling programme etc and Labour certainly has not created the climate for wealth creation - if you take over half of what people earn away they stop bothering to create jobs. Labour high taxes did nothing for the economy.

Apparently 1 in 17 are on disability benefits - 3 x when they first came out and yet medical advances surely mean fewer not more people are disabled. They obtained them until the rules change for life often without future assessment - that was plain stupid as plenty of people recover quickly and should be off them right away.

Other countries are cutting benefits and instead our benefits are going up by 1% and rise every single year when workers' pay has been dropping sometimes by 20%.

letsgetreadytoramble Mon 08-Apr-13 09:11:34

Ah, a house building programme etc - I can see the queues at the job centres decreasing before my eyes.

Not really sure why you think advances in medical science would reduce the number of people with disabilities - 20 years is not a long time in the world of medical science. Don't insult disabled people by implying that, if they suddenly got a miraculous cure, they'd still claim their benefits.

Most importantly Xenia, in the words of Suzanne Zeedyk, practical solutions are not achieved when we focus on who is to blame. Moral debate typically distracts us from being effective. Solutions are more likely to be achieved when we focus on how to lift ourselves and our neighbours out of misery. Poverty is not inevitable and it is not about punishability.

flaminhoopsaloolah Mon 08-Apr-13 14:55:26

Medical advances can get rid of permenant disability can it? Would you mind naming a few, Xenia?. Perhaps there are more people on disability because it has been realised that some conditions that are debilitating mean in reality for the person suffering form them that they cannot hold down a job no matter how hard they try.

Most people on disability, who are able to judge their position with a reasoning mind, would swap places with an able bodied person any day.

fuzzypicklehead Mon 08-Apr-13 17:56:00

jennywren no, I never said the surviving kids wouldn't be screwed up by what happened. What I said is that it isn't ok for anybody to decide to kick bereaved youngsters when they're already down.

Xenia Tue 09-Apr-13 13:46:20

That's the debate. The right would say policies which force the poor to help themselves work much better at taking people out of poverty -0 as indeed Thatcher achieved. We have never returned to the poverty of the 1970s. Living standards are much better for all since we had those policies in place.

I genuine don't see why there are more disabled people now than there ever were when medical advance increase, 90% of down's children are aborted etc etc. Surely there should be many manyfewer people with disabilities. I think 25% of those claiming have depression and I know that lack of good foods and sunlight and moving makes people more depressed I suppose the diet of junk food and never getting of a chair has in part increase the mental illness rates.

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