Osborne branded ‘total disgrace’ over Philpott case comments

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  By a Newsnet reporter

Chancellor George Osborne has waded into the controversy surrounding yesterday’s Daily Mail front page which claimed convicted child killer Mick Philpott was a “product of the welfare state”.

The Chancellor apparently agreed with the sentiments expressed in the article, which was widely condemned, by asking why the taxpayer should “subsidise lifestyles” like that of the Philpotts.

Asked whether the Philpotts were a product of the welfare system, as claimed by the Daily Mail lead article, the Chancellor replied:

“Philpott is responsible for these absolutely horrendous crimes, 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. And I think that debate needs to be had.”

He added: “It does need to be handled.”  

Philpott was sentenced to life imprisonment on Thursday after being convicted of the manslaughter of six of his children.  His wife Mairead and family friend Paul Mosley were sentenced to 17 years each for their role in starting the fire which killed the children.  

Philpott had set the fire in an attempt to frame his ex-lover Lisa Willis, after she left the family home taking with her the five children she had had by him.  The court heard that Philpott set the fire in order to gain custody of Ms Willis’s children.

Commentator and editor of the Politics Home website, Paul Waugh, highlighted the Chancellor’s inconsistency in making the remarks about the Philpott case.  Earlier this week, as the petition demanding that Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith prove his claim that he would be able to live on £53 seized the public imagination, the Chancellor was asked whether he too would be able to live on a similar sum. Mr Osborne replied:

“I don’t think it’s sensible to reduce this debate to an argument about one individual’s set of circumstances…”

Reacting to the Chancellor’s comments, Labour MP Andy McDonald branded Mr Osborne as a “total disgrace” and accused him of trying to gain political advantage from the Philpotts’ crime.

Mr McDonald said:

“It just demonstrates how out of touch George Osborne is. He may as well make adverse comments about the entire population of a town or a religion, it’s absolute nonsense.

“It just shows the depths to which they are prepared to stoop in demonising people who find themselves in difficult circumstances.”

He added that the debate over the welfare system is a “completely separate discussion, it should not be had in the context of the most appalling crime of a father killing his six children.”

Pamela Nash, Labour MP for Airdrie and Shotts, warned of the danger of linking Philpott’s crime of killing his children to the welfare system, describing such attempts as “deeply dangerous”.

Ms Nash said:

“I think to link his crime of killing his children to his lifestyle, his claiming of benefits, is just deeply dangerous. We want a welfare system that is fair, in this country, both to the taxpayer and to provide a safety net to those who are in need. However, it is still deeply, I think, misleading and as I said dangerous to link that to the death of these children. Mairead and Mick Philpott made a decision to set fire to that house, which led to the death of those children. That is not related to the fact that they were claiming benefits.”

Ms Nash added that linking the death of the six Philpott children to the benefits system was “deeply offensive” to all those who legitimately claim.  She continued:  

“I also think it is deeply offensive to all those who are really struggling to live on benefits at the moment through no choice of their own, but mostly it’s disrespectful to the memory of these children.

Meanwhile, the Chancellor became mired in a new controversy on Thursday evening after it emerged that his car had been photographed parked in a disabled parking bay in a motorway service station on the M4.  The Chancellor’s abuse of the disabled parking space has led to him being labelled “despicable” by the Mirror newspaper, which has splashed the story on its front cover.  Organisations representing people with disabilities have strongly criticised the Chancellor over the cuts he is implementing to benefits, saying that disabled people will be disproportionately affected.  Earlier this week, the Chancellor claimed that previous governments had “parked” people on disability benefits in order to remove them from unemployment statistics.

In a statement a Treasury spokesperson said that the Chancellor did not realise his car was parked in a disabled parking bay, saying that the Chancellor had been dropped off at the service station to buy some lunch and while he was out of the car his driver parked it in the disabled parking bay.  The car is understood to be a police vehicle.