After Frederick West was convicted of despicable murders, no-one wrote a headline saying he was the ‘Vile Product of Home Ownership’.
After Harold Shipman was convicted of mass murders, no-one wrote a headline saying he was the ‘Vile Product of Full Time Employment’.
It is disgusting therefore that the Daily Mail produced the headline ‘Vile Product of Welfare UK’ after the conviction of the child killer Mick Philpott.
This was not the hyperbole of a headline writer who has drunk too much coffee and got carried away. Exploiting extreme cases is a key tactic in the Mail’s mission to demonise the poor. And they are not alone: as Owen Jones in particular has argued many times, it is a theme of many papers and is picked up slavishly by the radio and TV. That’s why people like Philpott are so attractive to the media, and why he was invited on shows like the despicable Jeremy Kyle Show and starred in a documentary by Ann Widdecombe: to illustrate to the world how monstrous and degenerate welfare recipients are.
This is deliberate politics. The best way to defend benefit cuts is to attack benefit recipients, and Philpott offered a perfect opportunity. Holding a sick bucket just in case, I read the Mail columnist AN Wilson’s piece. He says Philpott ‘is a perfect parable for our age. His story shows the pervasiveness of evil born of welfare dependency.’ ‘The trial….. lifted the lid on the bleak and often grotesque world of the welfare benefit scroungers’. ‘Those six children, burnt to a cinder for nothing, were, in a way, the children of those benevolent human beings who, all those years ago, created our state benefits system.’ ‘Whole blocks of flats, whole tenement buildings are filled with drug-taking benefit fraudsters, scroungers and people on the make.’
In this way the case is made. The Duncan Smith narrative that our problems as a society arise from ‘welfare dependency’ is justified by example. Focus shifts from the swingeing and punitive cuts that he is implementing: after all, he is only trying to save benefit recipients from becoming Mick Philpotts. Unemployment is not a systemic failure; look, these people chose to be unemployed to get the benefits. And typical council tenant: having more children just to get a bigger house.
When former Children’s Minister Sarah Teather was sacked she blew the whistle on what was happening inside Government. As Toby Helm wrote in the Guardian: ‘She accuses parts of government and the press of a deliberate campaign to ‘demonise’ those on benefits….. With vivid outrage she describes the language and caricatures that have been peddled. ‘I think deliberately to stoke up envy and division between people in order to gain popularity at the expense of children’s lives is immoral. It has no good intent.’ ’
The Mail and the Government are in this together, and it is shameful.
Courtesy of Steve Hilditch at Red Brick, and on Twitter @stevehilditch and @labourhousing