George Osborne sparks benefits storm over Mick Philpott Derby house fire
Chancellor accused of exploitation after saying tragedy supports case for welfare reform
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Thursday 04 April 2013
George Osborne provoked a backlash today by suggesting that the horrific case of child killer Mick Philpott strengthened the case for further reforms of the welfare system.
Labour, pressure groups and charities accused the Chancellor of demonising claimants and trying to exploit an exceptional case after Philpott was given a minimum 15-year jail sentence for killing six of his children in a fire.
During a visit to Derby, where Philpott lived on benefits with 11 of his 17 children , Mr Osborne told the BBC: “Philpott is responsible for these absolutely horrendous crimes and these are crimes that have shocked the nation. The courts are responsible for sentencing, but I think there is a question for government and for society about the welfare state and the taxpayers who pay for the welfare state, subsidising lifestyles like that. I think that debate needs to be had.”
Mr Osborne’s remarks suggests he has some sympathy for a controversial proposal by Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, to limit state handouts such as child benefit to the first two children. The move has been blocked by the Liberal Democrats but could resurface in the Conservative manifesto for the 2015 election.
High-profile cases can prove a minefield for politicians. Tony Blair, then shadow Home Secretary, caught the national mood after the murder of two-year-old Jamie Bulger in 1993. But David Cameron, then Opposition Leader, was accused of “playing politics” in 2010 for describing the torture of a nine and 11-year-old boy by two brothers in Edlington, South Yorkshire, as a sign of Britain’s “broken society.”
Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor, described Mr Osborne’s remarks as “ the cynical act of a desperate Chancellor.” He added: “Millions of people, including pensioners and the disabled, people in work and out of work, receive benefits and tax credits. They will be as shocked and disgusted by the callous killing of these children as anyone else in Britain. But for the Chancellor to link this wider debate to this shocking crime is nasty and divisive and demeans his office.”
Dame Anne Begg, Labour chairman of the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee, said: “It was an evil act and I don't think we should be making policy on the back of a very exceptional case.”
Andy McDonald, Labour MP for Middlesbrough, said the Chancellor's comments were a “total disgrace”, adding: “It just shows the depths to which they are prepared to stoop in demonising people who find themselves in difficult circumstances."
Graeme Cooke, research director at the Institute for Public Policy Research think tank, said: “The idea that if only the rules of child benefit had been different these poor children might have been spared would be laughable if it wasn't offensive.” He said: “It is certainly not advisable to make national policy decisions about something like child benefit, which affects millions of families, on the basis of one extreme and shocking case.”
Tim Nichols, spokesman for the Child Poverty Action Group, said: “Nobody in politics, or the media, should be seeking to exploit this tragedy and the isolated actions of an evil man to serve other agendas.”
He condemned “on-going myth-making about jobseekers, disabled people and carers who face ever greater hardship from cuts to safety-net support and who are not being given the jobs, living wages and affordable housing they need”.
Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union, said: “It is sickening to see George Osborne exploiting the evil of one man and the death of six children to try and demonise ordinary law-abiding people who are struggling to get by.”
Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'
Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?
Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'
Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent
"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier
- 1 This 'woman calls police to order pizza' story isn't going where you're expecting
- 2 Axe wielding man shot dead after attacking four New York policemen on busy street
- 3 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 4 Jimmy Carr's Oscar Pistorius joke goes a bit too far at the Q Awards
- 5 Ottawa shootings: Bruce MacKinnon's cartoon is the perfect tribute to soldier Nathan Cirillo
Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery rumours: 'I'm living a more fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
This 'woman calls police to order pizza' story isn't going where you're expecting
FCKH8: YouTube reinstates provocative anti-sexism video showing young girls swearing
Axe wielding man shot dead after attacking four New York policemen on busy street
Diwali: What is the festival of lights – and how is it celebrated around the world?
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Attacks on 'Ukip Calypso' show how skewed people’s priorities are
£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...
£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: Our team of leading academic...
£7 - £8 per hour: Randstad Education Leeds: Nursery Nurse Leeds November start...
£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...