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Debate: Are the Philpotts a ‘vile product of welfare UK’?

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What’s going on?

As we report today, Mick and Mairead Philpott have “lied, play-acted and sought to connive their way out of responsibility for their six children’s deaths”. Yesterday they were found guilty of starting a blaze which went horribly wrong, killing their six children in the process. The fact that Mick Philpott lied as he did, and that he had 17 children by five different women, has led to frenzied discussion about the state of Britain’s poor. What wider lessons, if any, can we learn from this – and does it show that welfarism in Britain is out of control?

We might agree that Mick Philpott is “vile”. Is his vileness specifically a “product of welfare UK”?

Case for: Parable

Welfarism breeds dependency. We know this because the evidence is clear: people like Philpott are incentivised to have more children because the State – that’s taxpayers like you and I – will fund it. And if you live a life where someone else picks up the bill, and suffers the consequences, for the choices you make, then you are obviously less likely to take responsibility for, well, anything. That is fecklessness itself, and not to be encouraged. Mick Philpott, with his cavalier approach to parenthood, his reckless disregard for other people, and his constant lying is indeed a perfect parable for our age.

Case against: One case

It's ludicrous to take the barbarity of one man, or one couple, as any indication whatsoever of the character of an entire class. Welfare did not lay the groundwork for this manslaughter. It was cooked up by individuals. Pasting a moral onto the case proves only the prejudice of the moraliser. Any simple statistical analysis is enough to debunk today's tabloid frothing about "degenerates" and welfare dependency. Only 190 couples out of 1.35 million families claiming benefits have more than 10 children. Every single family in Britain - on welfare or not - will deplore the Philpotts. They are not "one of them": they are an anomaly from the entire human race.

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