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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

Xenia Fri 05-Apr-13 07:48:08

It is not a human right to reproduce. The morality of having children is that if you have them you have to be able to keep and feed them otherwise you commit a moral wrong in having them surely?

If a man had two children with a first woman and then knew that he woudl not have state support if he had more with her or another then it is likely that she or he would ensure like working parents they did not have more children than they could support. Few benefits claimants have large families but it is still a problem to address with some of them.

My grandfather did not marry until about 40 as he could not until then support a family. My parents were married over a decade before I was born as they could not afford children until then. There is nothing to stop people continuing to do the same - only have children they can afford

jennywren45 Fri 05-Apr-13 08:07:11

I keep seeing people say about allowing children to starve and it's very silly.

If a cap is brought in ( when?) then it will be from a future point so that all existing children will continue to be supported.

You cannot speculate what MP would or would not have done if the benefits system was different. He is not your average benefit claimant and his logic and world view are probably alien to most of us whether or not we receive benefits.

The Philpott family were exceptional and so shouldn't be held up as an example of benefit claimants in general or be used to justify policies that affect all benefit claimants.

Should be ban all doctors from administering opiates because Harold Shipman couldn't be trusted?

Should we

Xenia Fri 05-Apr-13 11:33:34

The case is brilliant because it reveals problems with the benefits system. In fact as IDS says most people are on benefits for 1 - 2 years until they find a new jobs and most of us support them on that. It is the long term employed where there is the bigger issue. The poor and left may be wriggling on a hook on this example as they have been caught with their pants down if I can mix metaphors and I hope those who want to reform benefits and the entitlement culture can use the case fully to their advantage. It has been a wonderful opportunity.

No one suggests children should starve. You could feed the 3rd and older children at school. You could make them share rooms like children of working parents often share rather than the higher standards from which the poor currently benefit. You could say that the 16 year old girl who has a baby is not housed by the council but has to doss down on her mother's floor with the baby however much that might not be her wonderful life plan.

Viviennemary Fri 05-Apr-13 11:42:03

Most people agree that the benefits system needs to be reformed so the people most in need are helped. And certain people do not benefit from the system because they are irresponsible workshy and lazy.

AnAirOfHope Fri 05-Apr-13 19:33:23

Xenia you make me very sad that there are people with your pov in our country sad

If your life falls apart when there is nothing you could do to stop it, could you live on £72 pounds per week?

Noone can predict the future and there should be a safty net for everyone.

There are 16 yo with children in one room at their parents because their are no council houseing available in the area.

You are angry at a stereotype of people not the fact there is no jobs in areas of the UK and poor public transport and no social housing. You are angry at people for having children and not the employer that does not pay a liverable wage that the Government then top up.

You are angry at men who have two families and not the csa that need to enforce an acceptable level of support for their own children.

You are kicking people when they are down not supporting them to get up.

We need investment in the poor, higher pay, better education, better public transport and freedon and incentives for new small businesses in poor areas. Make areas become self relant and give people jobs that pay not take money of the poor, uneducated and disabled.

AnAirOfHope Fri 05-Apr-13 19:40:03

The public want the truth not lies that they know to not be true.

Linking a horrific dv crime with the benefit system is low and dishonest.

If condems want peoples support there needs to be more transpairity not the bedroom tax and 50p to millionairs. The government is inciting hatred for curtain social class and you have fallen for it.

Dawndonna Fri 05-Apr-13 21:27:15

The case is brilliant because it reveals problems with the benefits system.

You may want to think about that Xenia

jennywren45 Fri 05-Apr-13 21:53:29

I think that the left are very nervous and uncomfortable with the fact that a great many truly ordinary, decent people want to see a significant change in the benefits system.
They see their own salaries going less far than last year, they see the tax they pay and the cost of living, they see their CB being stopped and they see how hard they have to work.
And then they see those on benefits and the Philpott's of this world, enjoying a lifestyle and cash flow that is simply out of reach of your aveage full time worker and they are starting to want to see a stop put to that.

I do understand that there are all kinds of good and reasoned arguments why that view is skewed ( and I have read a good many today) but the fact remains that this is very much how many people see it. And many will vote to support those changes. And the Govt know this which is probably why they have hitched themselves to the Philpott bandwagon .

Dawndonna Fri 05-Apr-13 21:57:26

And then they see those on benefits and the Philpott's of this world
One does not equate to the other and it is surely up to those with brains to educate those who think otherwise. So, everytime you hear someone going on about the Philpotts and benefits:a) put them right and b) point out that there are those of us on benefits who work damn hard for a pittance and save the government a fortune. I get carer's allowance. It's the only benefit I get. I look after four people with disabilities, for £53.00 per week.
50% of the benefits bill goes on pensions.
But you want people to vote that way, don't you Jenny so education will not be on your agenda.

jennywren45 Fri 05-Apr-13 22:05:24

If we are going to debate benefits the you have to be upfront.

If you are full time caring you will not be living on just £53 a week. i presume you have other benefits including Housing, child, TC?

I am not disputing you should have them for a minute, but it is disingenuous to suggest you are living on significantly less than you are.
And Dawn, the welfare state is there for exactly people like you and your family. Those that need support not those that choose not to work.
But yes, as a tory I want to see them stay in power, of course.

AnAirOfHope Fri 05-Apr-13 22:08:15

Some facts

3% of the budget is spent on benefits

0.07% is fraudlent claims

50% of that 3% is pensions

Only 190 families have 10+ children out of 52bn people in UK

3/4 recieving of the 50% are in work/paid employment

1.5m are on jsa with no job to get eg they are unemployed cos there is no job available for them.

Dawndonna Fri 05-Apr-13 22:11:01

I have none of those benefits, Jenny not one. I am lucky enough to be financially independent. Not that it's the business of anybody here.
I am still counted as benefit scrounging scum in the figures though, DH gets DLA, as do dcs. But it's interesting isn't it. YOU presumed I was getting everything else too, you even stated so.
I was not implying that I was living on less than I am. I was stating that the government pays me a pittance for what I do. It works out as .37 pence an hour.

AnAirOfHope Fri 05-Apr-13 22:11:26

Not all the 190 families with 10+ children are on benefits.

jennywren45 Fri 05-Apr-13 22:11:38

It's over a third on Welfare. More than education, NHS or defence.

In fact, we spend more on welfare annually (200bn and counting) than we take in income tax.

jennywren45 Fri 05-Apr-13 22:14:10

Dawn, well yes, your family ( quite rightly) get additional benefits so as a family you are supported.

I can't imagine why anyone would have a problem with that nor have I seen you referred to as scum by anyone.

I'll repeat, the welfare system is there to support people like yourselves.

Dawndonna Fri 05-Apr-13 22:21:54

next years spending

But Jenny, you are not going to change anybodys mind when they start on about the Philpotts and welfare are you, despite knowing that there are different circumstances. That is the point I'm making.

Just as an aside, I have absolutely no idea who I will vote for at the next general election. I used to be a John Smith type socialist, but the whole neo liberalism of all three main parties terrifies me, it is of course, anything but liberal.

moondog Fri 05-Apr-13 22:52:43

Don't forget that while the left wing elite are bleating about this, they are busy feathering their own nests
This is your money they are creaming off

Dawndonna Fri 05-Apr-13 23:36:42




Let's all play silly games, eh.

munchkinmaster Sat 06-Apr-13 07:21:17

Do the Children of benefits claimants never share room then. That's funny because it seemed to me the phillpots were crammed in 4 or 5 to a room.

Yep, 14 people in a 3 bed semi. The life of Riley.

Also discussing this case as great is shameful

jennywren45 Sat 06-Apr-13 08:35:51

They were only crammed in because they chose to have two women and their children shacked up together.

They were not a single family so had no right to expect the taxpayer to house them as one.
Can you begin to imagine the outrage if they were?

Xenia Sat 06-Apr-13 08:53:53

Indeed - a third of the nation's income is on welfare including the old. A huge amount of the rest of NHS and education. In other words free state provision NHS, education and benefits is a massive amount of what we spend. Then add in defence, wars and foreign aid and the EU.

The bottom line is we cannot afford it all any more at all.

The case has done wonders for benefits discussions in this country. It really has drawn out the majority view of working people that they have had enough of paying for so many people to be idle. Many full time working workingclass people also very much resent those not working being better off than they are too. This is not just a view of higher rate tax payers like I am. It is the view of ordinary British working families. It does not matter that most benefits claimants do not have 17 children there is still a problem that work does not pay for many.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Sat 06-Apr-13 08:56:57

The case is brilliant because it reveals problems with the benefits system

Of all the heartless, soulless shit you've ever come out with, Xenia, that must be the most appalling.

jennywren45 Sat 06-Apr-13 08:58:04

Agreed, Xenia. I've just read this and I tend to agree!

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