Coffee House

The Philpotts – what happened to Labour’s view that we should be tough on the causes of crime?

4 April 2013

5:12 PM

4 April 2013

5:12 PM

Several Labour MPs have expressed their disapproval of George Osborne’s comments about the taxpayer funding Mick Philpott’s lifestyle. For example, Andy McDonald, MP for Middlesbrough, said that welfare 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. 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.’

The obvious problem with this is that Osborne acknowledged that they were separate issues. He said that the Philpotts’ crimes were their own responsibility, but their lifestyle, as documented in the Times (£), should be a matter for public debate because it appears, to a very great extent, to have been publicly funded.

Is a system that is open to such abuse, efficate? This question merits some discussion; but McDonald failed to address it. Are we then to assume that the status quo is beyond criticism? It would appear so. Jack Dromey, Labour’s housing spokesman, visited Gloucester today, scene of another contentious benefits story: unemployed mother of 11, Heather Frost seeks to move to a 6 bedroom mansion. Philpott and Frost are, of course, extreme cases. But that is the point. They are eye-catching, so it’s wise to address the questions which they raise. Dromey was prepared only to condemn ‘abuse’ of the system (whatever ‘abuse’ might be: is having, for instance, 10 children fine but 11 beyond the pale?), before becoming bogged down while trying to refute the government’s crude distinction between ‘strivers’ and ‘skivers’.


Politics is a crude business at this level. It’s clear (for once) where the Tories stand on welfare and work. It is not clear where Labour stands.

This is very a strange place for the party to find itself when so much public money is at stake, and when the Tories are vulnerable to the charge of being inconsistent on benefits. Why, for example, are wealthy pensioners’ fuel allowances, bus passes and so forth immune from Osborne and IDS’ great reckoning? Plenty of hard-pressed younger taxpayers will resent that as much as they do the Philpotts and Frosts of this world.

Beyond that, Labour’s apparent refusal to discuss the Philpott case is odd when one considers the left’s emphasis on the social causes of crime. It is supposed that one of Philpott’s criminal aims that awful night was to get a new council house. There is a link between the needs of Philpott’s many innocent children and an over-stretched housing system that requires significant reform and investment. I’m surprised that the Labour Party hasn’t made more of the housing (and the social care) dimension in this tragic case, because there is a ready-made argument for it to use. (The right, obviously, also has recourse to an argument here about the sense of child benefit.)

Watching the Labour party through this week of debate, but particularly this afternoon, has highlighted the extent to which it has forgotten Tony Blair – both his politics and his opportunism. The Philpott tragedy, like the Bulger tragegy, raises questions about how we order our society. That should be the business of politicians.

PS: The Philpott case also raises questions about the criminal justice system. Mark Wallace has a good post on the subject. And there is a further question about what we do with former servicemen. The case also encompasses social care, and the help society offers vulnerable women. It is teeming with problems that politicians ought to be addressing.

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Show comments
  • Jeremy Fletcher


  • kyalami

    Let’s make it simple. The state will pay towards the costs of two children. After that it’s up to the parents.

  • Mike Godfrey

    Unfortunately politicians sound bites come back to haunt them as in this case. Quite obviously the benefit system was a major contributory factor in Philpotts sick and criminal life style but we (Labour) don’t want to talk about that, do we !

  • Edward1

    Remember the riots (you know the designer ones). Most rioters came from dysfunctional families and were known to the police. The welfare state and ‘all live styles are acceptable’ contributed to the riots and here we have another crime committed by a hero of the Jeremy Kyle show. The real cost of lifetime welfareism is now becoming clear.

    • Makroon

      Yes, the lumpen poster-child for benefits abuse, has usually been the single-teenage-mum-with-several-kids-and-no-regular-partner.
      Probably healthy that other modes of abuse have received a bit of attention.

  • lindaoutofafrica46

    An almost deafening silence from the Labour Party about this terrible crime and the obvious link to the benefits culture in this country. They are quick enough to jump on the silly bandwagon about George Osborne’s security 4×4 parking in a disabled bay though. I do think they have lost all credibility over the past week.

  • Carlazi

    Using the death of 6 children to make political hay is awful and as usual its osborne and balls making the running. Oppurtunism on both sides, but notice the lib dems keep quiet, shows some true respect to the lives of 6 children. No politician should have mentioned their death

    • Ridcully

      I suspect the Lib Dems’ silence has less to do with respect and more to do with dithering indecision over which side of the fence to come down on.

  • Daniel Maris

    I’m glad no one has brought up his (and his wife’s) ethnicity i.e. Irish. If people are groping around looking for causes for horrendous crimes it is all too easy for them to latch on to ethnicity as we have seen in other cases (Rod Liddell please note). Of course Irish people have been stereotyped in the past by publications like Punch as untrustworthy, drunken, child neglecting and so on, but there is no reason to succumb to such stereotyping.

    • Starfish

      So why did you bring it up?
      Just wondering……

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    My first comment has disappeared. What is your problem, Spec?

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Now if only “Shameless” Mick had switched to Islam.

  • paulus

    I don’t think this argument is focusing on the central point and that is : this man was totally amoral.We know what the name is for a man who lives off a woman and that is what he was.However, a perverse understanding of an incentive was offered to him to reproduce for financial gain, one that most rational people wouldn’t persue.Its obvious that he has a very low IQ, otherwise his lunatic reasonings to burn the house down and frame someone else wouldnt have made sense.

  • Austin Barry

    I’m not sure that you can draw any conclusions about the Welfare State from the atypical actions of a violent sociopath, a succession of preternaturally stupid women and a priapic amoral neighbour.

    The abuse of the Welfare State is more insidious, non-violent, clerical and fraudulent. Did Philpott actually claim any direct benefit to which he was not entitled? His vocation seems to have been in cajoling dim-bulb women into handing over their benefits.

    None of which which stop bleating, bleeding-heart Lefty politicians like ‘Hamster’ Teather and ‘Blinky’ Balls cavorting ineffectually around the case like eunuchs at a dogging event.

  • Philip Harding

    For me, the point is that using the Philpott case to talk about welfare abuses is completely self-defeating because his crime is so odious that it will always grab the attention of the debate. Unless (like the Daily Mail) you start implying that welfare ‘results in’ these types of crime, which is insane. If you want to talk about welfare itself, it is better to leave this case alone – there are others that would serve your purpose better.

  • Hookeslaw

    ‘Why, for example, are wealthy pensioners’ fuel allowances, bus passes and so forth immune from Osborne and IDS’ great reckoning’

    Lets drop this shall we.

    ‘Wealthy’ pensioners will still drive, moderately well off may well use their bus pass but still spend money at their destination. And just how many times a week are they whipped out by your average pensioner?
    You do not have to claim your fuel allowance if you in your heart of hearts think you do not need to, I doubt that Lord Sugar or Richard Branson (age 62) claim theirs.
    If you are worried – tax it.

    Plus lets be clear – there are still significant sums being paid in benefits, and after a lifetime of contributions and faced with a fixed income of declining value who is to say that the oldest in society should be picked on?

  • Hookeslaw

    When you point out that Labour will not face up to the issue you also highlight how difficult it is to politically solve it. labours opposition and refusal to approach a consensus is why politically it is so difficult to handle. If a few bishops threw away their rose tinted glasses that might help as well.

    You are of course right to point out the emptiness of Labour’s crime policy as well.

    All put together its why we must do all we can to make sure Labour do not get back into power.

  • Manuelgoldstein

    Important not to forget the role of the European Parliament in this appointment. They are not fans of the UK Conservatives and may well stitch up a veto of the first choice candidate just because they can. Smart money could be on whoever is UK second choice to get the gig

  • Barakzai

    Jack Dromey got bogged down, did he . . . . So he cannot pontificate on the one true path like the grande dame he’s married to? You’ll never make the party’s front bench without the ironclad self-righteousness Harriet and her peers possess, Jack.

  • Marcus

    Blair was completely part of the problem. He was the architect of the false economy that allowed the welfare state not only to carry on but expand massively under his 10 years. His legacy and reign are all be cared about and he didn’t give a monkey’s about what happened to the poor and only ever paid lip service to any policies that could really tackle the problem of welfare; and then just chucked claimants more of someone else’s money. If you don’t get that; you don’t get much.

    • Hookeslaw

      You are right, Blair was part of the problem. And one part of Blair’s guilt was in cutting a deal with Brown which gave Brown final say in the domestic agenda and also being in total ignorance of what a mess Brown was making of our economy.
      Brown’s henchmen are now trying to persuade us they are fit to run the country and a bunch of loony toons are doing their best to let them.

      • Marcus

        You really believe Blair was ignorant of what was going on in the U.K.?
        No one else was. You were either a silly lefty who denied the obvious, a ‘nasty daily mail reader’ or a head in the sand unworldly fool (C of E style) but even the latter knew there was an exponentially growing problem with benefits and mass immigration. Blair knew full well; he just didn’t give one.

  • Jules

    Philpott himself was not in receipt of working age benefits, his partners were. They both worked and claimed working tax credits, housing benefit and child tax credits, all IN WORK benefits. It’s just that they were paid into HIS bank account. Mick Philpott did not personally claim welfare. Mis information is being given out here.

    • DBlackburn

      I have made no such claim about Mick Philpott, although I’ve clarified the headline to remove any doubt.

      • Jules

        The Tories and all their acolytes are deliberately encouraging people to believe that Philpott was claiming benefits when he was NOT! He was lazy and did not want to work, but he himself did not receive ANY MONEY from the state. All benefits claimed were through the two women and were IN WORK benefits. It’s just that the money was paid into his bank account and therefore he controlled the money.

        • DWWolds

          But he was living on the money the women claimed. And as he had no other source of income he was living on money provided by the taxpayer.

        • Hookeslaw

          Come off it – he was living off the money of the women he bullied. His need for benefits was the reason for his relationship (a far to grand a word) with them. His thirst for more benefits was the driver behind his plot.

        • Colonel Mustard

          A minor academic point of no consequence to the main issue.

        • Makroon

          Your barrack-room lawyering and Mr Blackburn’s mealy-mouthed fence sitting, don’t matter. The public will come to their own conclusions.

        • benfirthy

          Ok valid point, we should be closing this “loop-hole” too, if at all possible, I would like to see non-tradable food stamps as a portion of benefit, I am annoyed at paying for Idpot’s smoking/drinking and then his subsequent healthcare. This is probably not pc, but I am also not happy paying for low-iq genes to be “over” reproduced, this must bode badly for the future, ignore natural selection at your peril. Yes it sounds bad but I don’t care I believe there is some truth in this however unsavoury.

    • judyk113

      Had his arson plot succeeded and he won custody off his ex partner and successfully framed her for the arson, then he would have been claiming benefit for her five children in his own right as their resident father. Is housing benefit an in-work benefit? I didn’t think it was.

      • Jules


        The majority of people claiming housing benefit are IN WORK. Something you don’t read on here or in the Daily Mail.

        You say, IF IF IF, the fact is Philpott did not succeed in his plan and he did NOT claim or receive a single penny in welfare or state benefit. His two partners who both worked and received in work benefits had them paid into his account. That is how he had access to and controlled the money.

        • David Ossitt

          “The majority of people claiming housing benefit are IN WORK.”

          Please do not shout.

          Well they shouldn’t be, claiming benefits that is..

          Only a mad-man like the sad, bad Gordon Brown would have a welfare
          system where the majority of those in work claim benefits, Beverage would be appalled to see what the benefit system has become.

        • HJ777

          It may be true that he didn’t qualify for or receive benefits himself, but it’s not really true to claim that this means he didn’t receive any benefits.

          Many benefits, including housing benefit, are assessed on the basis of household income and numbers, so his lack of income would have been effectively taken into account. In other words, more benefits were paid into his household as a direct consequence of the fact that he didn’t work.

          This situation has a major impact on the incentives to work – once you work, you not only pay tax, but benefits are reduced and the interaction of these two factors produces effective marginal tax rates which are often more than 70%. So it is reasonable to consider the extent to which the benefits system facilitated this mans’s lifestyle and the way he behaved.

    • DWWolds

      But the money was going directly into his bank account.

  • judyk113

    I think Wallace’s point is excellent- that had “iife means life” been in operation, Philpott would have been serving a real life sentence for his attempted murder of his then 17 year old partner and her mother in the late 70s, he would not have been free either to produce his brood of children or to cause their deaths in the callous and horrific way he did. I thought that Mrs Justice Thirlwell did

    an excellent job of bringing out how he then went on to use the vlolence of that crime and his readiness to do it again as a central threat to enforce his control of the young women who were his partners and the source of his income–including tens of thousands of benefits pounds.

    As for Labour, the whole project of electing and embracing Ed Miliband and his paymasters in Unite has been to get rid of the legacy of Tony Blair and everything he stood for, and to replace it with loudmouth crude class warfare, of which the current outcry against Osborne and the Daily Mail on the relationship between abusing the benefits system and the worst case of benefits abuse are the results.

    • Hookeslaw

      CORRECT !!

  • Smithersjones2013

    What happened to Labour’s view that we should be tough on the causes of crime?

    Haven’t you heard? Brown successfully purged the Blairites from the higher echelons of the Labour Party and its back to Old Labour again and being soft on anyone who wants something for nothing. Being tough on crime was a Blairite thing……

    • telemachus

      How anyone can make this tragedy a political plaything beats me

      • Andy

        Yes you do need beating. You should actually take a long hard look at this case and see where the stupid policies and ideology you never cease to support leads.

        Had it not been for the Welfare State largely created by the Labour Party to support its clients, Philoptt’s would never have embarked on his evil scheme.

        While the Law does not describe what Philpott’s did as Murder, to the public at large that is what he is – a Murderer. The only appropriate sentence I can think of is Death. He should be hanged.

        • telemachus

          Yes he is an odious man who did the next best thing to murder
          And yes he needs to be banged up for life as sentenced (the death penalty remains morally repugnant)
          But this mans evil is nothing to do with welfare
          The judge in summing up told us of sledgehammers to bash the knees in of a previous lover
          Before knifing her and her mother

          • the baracus

            You comments demonstrate exactly why you are so out of touch and deluded about this (and many other) matters.

            In your disturbed idealistic world, you are clearly not able to see the difference between welfare as a lifestyle choice and welfare as a temporary stop gap.

            The system that was designed by your Socialist ideologues actively encourages the former and not the latter. Once Philpott had made his lifestyle choice then his motive for his actions become clear.

            One day, when you have grown up sufficiently, you may be able to demonstrate the emotional maturity to see things for how they really are, not just as they rather naively appear to be, or how your Socialist dogma instructs you to believe.

            Having said that, I believe that day to be, unfortunately for you, a long way off.

            • telemachus

              I see then
              The welfare was incidental to the evil

          • Andy

            So the fact that he started the fire to, a) get a bigger Council House and b) try to get custody of the children and the £12000 benefit income they brought with them had nothing whatsoever to do with his wicked and evil crime ??

            Like I said try actually looking at this case for a change, instead of spouting National Socialist Labour Party bullshit. Without the benefits Philpott’s would never have had 17 children. It is morally obscene that this wicked and evil man was able to live as he did at our expense.

            He ought to be hanged.

            • telemachus

              Crazed evil will be crazed evil whether in a council house or a private caravan
              Would you be the hangman yourself?

            • liamsmith

              You cannot continue to link everything with the last Labour Government. Your angelic Conservative party, and Liberal Democrat servants, have been in government for three years. They have had three years to push through legislation which could of changed the welfare state. If you say that the Labour party opposed all legislation, then look at the term Opposition, you might learn something.

              Yes, Labour did open up the welfare state to accompany different factors, the intention was NOT to allow these problems to arise. I believe the intention was for the Welfare state to provide people with a flexible system that can benefit them while out of work, or who have large families. The intention was good, but it is the mind of one evil, evil man that can make the system look bad.
              What would your alternative be? The inclination that I get is that you would probably abandon the welfare state and herald in some draconian era where the poor are forced to worship the rich.

              • Hookeslaw

                The welfare state is being reformed and the legislation passed through parliament and Labour oppose it at every stage.
                Your argument is totally hollow.

              • Andy

                I never mentioned the last Labour Government. Thank you for making the link. This week some Benefit changes have been brought in by the Government. I note that the Labour Party opposed every single one of these changes. I assume by your tone you would support their position.

                Like so many on the Left you just don’t get it do you ? Philpott’s is a very wicked and evil man, but his motives were money and that money was what he saw as the cash cow of the Welfare State. He had 17 children for God’s sake and hadn’t worked a day certainly since 2004 and probably a lot earlier. Why should we pay for his life style ?? We shouldn’t and that is the essential point.

              • Colonel Mustard

                “Could have” not “could of”. Labour had 13 years and managed to do bugger all of any use but plenty of the most damaging and destructive work this country has ever experienced. Worse than the Luftwaffe but both motivated by national socialism.

              • jon Heroic

                Hows about people taking responsibility for their own actions. ie, if you wish to have numerous children, good for you but first make sure you can afford to do so.

            • FrenchNewsonlin

              While you’re bringing back hanging pray line up the banksters and their political cohorts/paid collaborators for a taste of your noose.Their economic war crimes are equally as bad or worse than those Philpott committed.

              • Andy

                Oh I see, so ‘blame the bankers’ is the reason why Philpott’s killed these children ? Do you actually have any understanding of the economy because your simplistic twaddle of ‘economic war crimes are equally as bad or worse than those Philpott committed’ is offensive bullshit. You obviously seem to think that killing those children was somehow justified. You are sick.

                • FrenchNewsonlin

                  You didn’t quite get it did you. But never mind, ad hominem is rarely an argument.

          • Hookeslaw

            He did not do his best to murder … he did his best to frame his ex girlfriend so he could gain custody of his children’s benefits.
            Sadly for his children he spent too much time in the pub or beating up the last woman who looked sideways at him instead of watching CIS Las Vegas.

          • Andy

            ‘the next best thing to murder’ is a stupid and offensive comment even by your low standards. I suggest you amend the post.

            Manslaughter is not ‘the next best thing to murder’. If the Crown could have proved that Philpott’s intended to kill the children it would have been murder. But be in no doubt that having started the fire using petrol – and with the amount of plastics in modern houses I am not surprised the children probably died in their sleep – this evil and wicked man did bugger all to save them, unlike some of his neighbours.

            • telemachus

              I do not follow
              Technically he did not murder
              Morally what he did is worse
              Osborne is a guilty voyeur of all this

              • Andy

                What a stupid phrase – ‘the next BEST thing to murder’.

                Osborne is guilty of nothing save pointing out the bleedin obvious.

        • Charles Hedges

          As should the liar George Osborne and the Atos butcher and failed arms trader Iain Duncan Smith

      • Colonel Mustard

        On script I see.

        • telemachus

          The script here is that a violent criminal kills his children and drags his partner and friend into the crime on the one hand
          And a weak struggling Chancellor uses this heinous act to score political points
          He is not fit to be part of HMG

          • Colonel Mustard

            Your script comes from the Labour party like the rest of the trolls. You are like the Borg. Out comes a soundbite from Labour Online Central and you all start bleating it on cue. It’s like Campbell and McBride are back in Smear Central co-ordinating the propaganda.

            You are misrepresenting what the Chancellor said to score political points. That is the only motive here, actually exploiting the tragedy in another attempt to undermine the government because you think Labour have some divine right to rule over us all.

            • Starfish

              Apparently because the Coalition has been in power for three years they should have sorted it
              What happened in the previous decade+?
              I wonder who Philpott voted for? And his ‘wives’ no doubt….

    • salieri

      Not entirely sure about that: are you perhaps being unduly generous to the ineffable (never knowingly effed) Blair? One answer to the headline question is that this was never New Labour’s “view” – merely a calculated pose, another empty slogan among so, so many. The epitome of clap-trap. It was just like asking Frank Field to “think the unthinkable” – and immediately drop it when the unthinkable was thought.

    • martinvickers

      The caue of the crime was Mick Philpott. He was given life with a 15 year minimum. Hard to see how much tougher you could get for a manslaughter.

      Unless you are suggesting the cause (D Blackburns word, not mine) was not Philpott himself. but Welfare dependency – which seems a little out there…

      • DBlackburn

        Just to clarify: I’m not saying that ‘welfare dependency’ caused this crime; such a claim would be ludicrous and without foundation. However, this crime has social contexts (not all of them are related to welfare – the failures of the criminal justice system, for example, are also important). These contexts are far from the most important facts in the case, but they do exist. Even the appalling Mick Philpott has a wider context than himself; monsters are rarely created ex nihilo.

        This case is extreme, but it reveals an enormous amount about our society, and none of it is pleasant. That’s not to say that the Tories are right; but it is to say that the status quo in welfare, criminal justice and so forth needs to be addressed. To ignore these external issues, as Labour has done, seems extraordinarily dangerous to me.

        • martinvickers

          With respect, that comes across as simply “yes, but no, but…”. You say the crime reveals an enormous amount about our society. Well, what exactly. Specify what you think it says, rather than simply imply and run away, and then we can discus cause and effect sensibly.,,

        • Hookeslaw

          Yes – but in fact this crime (the intention of which was not murder) was driven by a wish to grab the children’s benefits.
          This highlights a culture driven by benefit dependency. Its an extreme example of one thread of that dependency.
          Its shines a torch into the dark gloomy room populated by the underclass that HG Wells’ time traveller might be familiar with.

    • Hookeslaw

      Thats right and after winning the 2001 election Blair should have sacked Brown. Now when we hear Kinnock extolling that he has got his party back you know what to expect.

  • Russell

    Labours message is about as clear as their message on every other subject. They simply criticise everything the government says or does and will not state what their position is. No senior labour spokesman, like Balls as Osbornes shadow.
    What is Balls view on the use of taxpayers money being used to support scum like Philpott who clearly abused the welfare system for his own gain, or others who have and still do have huge numbers of children and never work.
    Philpott also raises questions about the Justice system as he reportedly stabbed a previous girlfriend 13 times in a vicious attack and yet is allowed out of prison in a relatively short period and allowed to have many young children within his ‘care’.

    • Russell

      And exactly up to the gutter standard of the National Socialists (labour) party Balls appears and accuses Osborne of linking the Philpott case with the disabled and the hard working welfare claimants. Balls is a disgrace along with Dromey, Twigg and the rest of the scum in the labour party and it is no surprise that they are gutter class politicians who have in fact almost sunk to the Philpott level (without obviously, actually killing innocent children, before the labour trolls jump in!).

      • darwins beard

        Completely true, Labour allowed a noble cause such as the welfare system, designed to help the most needy and deserving to be perverted and corrupted by the types like Philpott and other Jeremy Kyle fodder. They did not do a damn thing to challenge it, even worse attack anyone who does commit to change

    • Noa

      What happened to Labour’s view that we should be tough on the causes of crime?

      There was always a implicit caveat that this was subject to their core Benefits Dependent voter base not being in any way threatened or reduced.
      In that event all bets are off.