Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne questioned whether Mick Philpott, who was sentenced to life imprisonment today for killing six of his 17 children, was motivated by state-funded welfare payments, entering a debate that’s dividing the U.K.
Philpott, 56, was told he would serve at least 15 years in prison after starting a fire at his house in order to frame a former mistress who was trying to gain custody of some of his children. The court in Derby, central England, heard that one of the reasons he wanted the children to live with him in the three-bedroom, state-owned home was to convince the local authority he should be entitled to a bigger house and to claim the state-funded welfare payments for children.
The sentencing came in the same week as curbs to welfare payments come into force, amid a broader public debate on the rights of benefits claimants over workers as Britain teeters on the brink of a triple-dip recession. Osborne said last month that government spending cuts will continue for five more years.
“It’s right we ask questions as a government, a society and as taxpayers, why we are subsidizing lifestyles like these,” Osborne said when asked about the case at a porcelain factory in Derby today. “It does need to be handled.”
The Daily Mail newspaper called Philpott the “vile product of welfare U.K.” on its front page yesterday, a sentiment echoed by the biggest-selling tabloid, The Sun. The Mail described Philpott as a “drug-taking layabout, who embodies everything that is wrong with the welfare state.”
Osborne told supermarket workers in a speech two days ago that the welfare overhaul, which caps annual increases in benefits at 1 percent a year for three years and introduces curbs on housing subsidies, is intended “to make the system fair on people like you, who get up, go to work, and expect your taxes to be spent wisely.”
The opposition Labour Party was critical of Osborne’s comments.
“Mick Philpott’s crimes were terrible,” Labour’s welfare spokesman, Stephen Timms, said in an e-mail. “Everyone should be clear that responsibility for these evil acts rests with him and the others sentenced today. It is wrong to link those acts with the debate about welfare and George Osborne should not be doing so, even implicitly.”
“Millions of people including pensioners and the disabled, people in work and out of work, receive benefits and tax credits” Timms said. “The government needs to recognize that they are as shocked and disgusted by the callous killing of these children as anyone else in Britain.”
Philpott was convicted of manslaughter along with his wife Mairead and friend Paul Mosley, who were told they would serve at least half of their 17-year sentences.
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