The Daily Mail’s lesson of the day is “The smaller they are, the harder you kick ‘em.”

Stop the press! – life’s certainties have been updated: they now include death, taxes, and the Daily Mail trotting out a dollop of poorly-written hate speech directed against the most vulnerable group imaginable.

DM Vile product of Welfare UK

Each time the Daily Mail does this, we think they’ve surpassed themselves, yet each time they do it, they do it harder, and to a more vulnerable group. The surviving children of Michael and Mairead Philpott are the first and most tender victims of today’s Daily Mail headlines.

We should not lose sight of how devastated those children must be, coping with the loss of six of their siblings and the incarceration of their dad who – however dreadful we know he is – is still, to them, their dad. On top of this burden, today those children have had to look at a front page that proclaims that they were “bred … to milk the benefits system”. We can only guess what must they think about their place in society and their worth to anyone. Eleven children will have to live with the repercussions of that headline for a very, very long time.

They are not alone in suffering as a consequence of these headlines, though. The Daily Mail’s focus is as much on the notion that people on benefits are “evil,” as on the crimes of the Philpotts and their friend Paul Mosley.

With the Mail insisting that Philpott’s 17 children existed to “net him £60,000 a year in benefits” (that figure is the Mail’s), it is easy to lose sight of the fact that whatever benefits were paid out to Philpott and to the women he had children with, a large part of those benefits were for the care, the feeding, the housing, the clothing, of children. It is easy to imagine Philpott with his fists crammed with money and to gloss over the reality of both the dead and living children’s lives. Much has been made of Michael Philpott’s rather convoluted sex life. Yet behind the salacious fanfare of outrage, the Philpotts’ living arrangements and that of their children, rather than a life of tax-payer-funded sextastic Riley, look more like crushing poverty.

The Philpotts lived in a three bed semi with a third adult – Lisa Willis – and her children. Before Willis left that house (taking her children with her), there were three adults and eleven children living together. Even if we assume that the arrangement was cosy enough that all three adults shared a bed, that leaves two bedrooms split between eleven children. I am not sure under what circumstances this setup would be regarded as adequate housing. I am certain that it would not be regarded by any sane person as an incentive to stop working.

When Lisa Willis left the Philpotts’ house, the Daily Mail informs us that she took with her “more than £1,000 a month in benefit payments”. We are supposed to think this is an enormous amount of money. It’s worthwhile doing the maths here: between Willis and her five children that £1000 is £166 per month, per person.

Each of those human beings was living on about £37 a week.

Yet the Daily Mail’s headlines on this case suggest that murdering six of your children is almost the logical outcome of receiving benefits. As if people who are unemployed or poor for other reasons (disability, illness, being a carer for a sick relative), are an evil-eyed bunch, dodging their responsibilities, churning out children as fast as possible and, behind dirty net curtains, plotting their deaths for fun and profit while raking in great drifts of creased notes.

These headlines are perverse primarily for the ugly words they use to describe Philpott’s surviving children, but secondly, for the fact that they paint Philpott’s unique wickedness as an inevitable result of the system designed to pick us all up when we fall. And most of us fall, at some point.

Even as I type this with the BBC News channel on in the background, the presenter has just asked Ann Widdecombe: “to what extent is [Philpott] representative of people on benefits?”

I am fed up to the back teeth with this rhetoric.

Anyone can lose their job. In fact, with the goverment eroding employee rights it becomes more likely every year. The job market is small and ferocious, even if you are willing to take a zero-hour contract or part time work that may not pay your rent. There are stories in all the broadsheets hinting that minimum wage may soon pass into history. 1,700 people famously applied for eight jobs at Costa, recently. There are 2.5m unemployed, and the government is cheerfully trumpeting about having created a million jobs, many of which are part time and of little help to people with children to feed (and 140,000 of which are people on unpaid internships, training schemes, apprenticeships and workfare schemes – and therefore still receiving benefit), while demonising the 1.5m people for whom there simply is no job.

The Daily Mail is singing backing vocals against the main melody coming out of the Palace of Westminster, from both leading parties. We hear of “workers and shirkers”, “strivers and skivers”.

What we don’t hear about is the people who are too ill or too disabled to work, or who are trapped in a jobless state by having to care for others who are. We hear about people dropping off the disability benefits list – always couched in terms that suggest that they were there fraudulently – but we don’t hear about the fact that they got better. We don’t hear about people’s already difficult lives being made impossible by the “bedroom tax” and by ATOS assessments. Westminster and press rhetoric are complicit in the steep rise in the number of hate crimes and attacks against the disabled. We don’t hear about that from the Daily Mail.

We don’t hear about the people who are on benefits because they work, but are simply not earning enough to survive. Nearly a million households are in this position, and this group forms the majority of housing benefit claimants.

We don’t hear about the people desperately searching for work, and failing to find it.

What we do hear about is the 120,000 “troubled families” the government is investing money in. We hear about the 190 families (out of a population of 56 million) with more than 10 kids, who are on benefits.

And we hear about Philpott. Not in the context of his being a violent human being who knowingly ended the lives of six of his children in order to “get back at” a woman; but instead we hear him described in terms of how much he took in benefits, and how we can extrapolate his example to draw conclusions about anyone else who claims benefits.

It is worth pointing out that the DWP’s own figures place benefit fraud at 0.7%. There is little doubt that Philpott himself was in that 0.7%. He was a healthy man who simply did not wish to work. But to hold him up as an example of a whole class of people, a great chunk of which are on benefits AND working, is a vile trick to play on society. Its effects – not just on the poorest in society, but on us all – are profound. We are sold the same story again and again: that poverty is a choice and it is an immoral choice. That the poor are therefore immoral. That we should require them to suffer for having made this choice, that poverty is not sufficient punishment, they should also, as a class, be loathed.

This attitude fractures our society at its most fundamental level: the assumption that everyone else in it is a human being, that a stranger who falls in front of you on the street should be helped up, not kicked as you pass by.

Finally, I would urge you to read this excellent piece by Ricky Tomlinson. If only there were more like it.

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About chiller

Rachel Coldbreath spent 20 years working internationally as a technical specialist on large data collections for law firms, before becoming disabled. She blogs on a variety of topics from the news and politics to gardening and how very annoying it is, being disabled. Habits include drilling holes about 1mm away from where they ought to be, and embarking with great enthusiasm on tasks for which she is neither physically nor intellectually equipped.
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23 Responses to The Daily Mail’s lesson of the day is “The smaller they are, the harder you kick ‘em.”

  1. Murray says:

    Thank you for writing this (which I have sent to Facebook and Twitter).

  2. ourgaff13 says:

    super piece – couldn’t agree more. x

  3. That was tremendously well thought out and written. I hope a lot of people read it.

  4. maleghast says:

    Awesome piece of writing, on a subject that I feel ashamed I have not found time to say anything about on my, much neglected, blog, let alone found the time to write to my MP about (for all teh good that will do, he’s one of the Tories’ millionaires).

    Thanks, really – I wish more people would talk about this more, after all it only takes a minute for any of us to have our fortunes change for the worse, and I for one want the net there if I ever need it, let alone the undeniable benefit our whole society feels when we ensure that people are not poor or hungry or alone. The mark of any society is how it treats those with the least, and right now that measure makes me more and more ashamed…

  5. Ceri says:

    Excellent piece – perfectly expresses the disgust and anger I’ve been feeling about this.

    What we also don’t hear about is the money raised by members of the local community to pay for the funerals of those poor kids. Money raised by people who probably don’t have a great deal to spare but still helped, still contributed.

    • chiller says:

      Thanks – and yes, there’s a great deal going unsaid on this. Especially about Mairead Philpott / the effects of domestic abuse.

  6. Yes, I wholly agree with you in parts. But I simply don’t understand how a person who ‘doesn’t wish to work’ believes they can have a large number of children?! Does Phillpott not think about their quality of life? What kind of example is he setting for his kids – hey, life is better when you don’t work?!!! I totally don’t agree with this style of life as a good model for children- a life without work. Life is about work, hard work. Hard work achieves better results! Please note the word ‘better’, being a more positive outcome, in whichever sphere you choose to apply yourself. I would not expect more from Phillpott, than to produce a sprawling village of people who believe ‘they don’t want to work’ so they shouldn’t feel like they have to. In my opinion, this neither fosters a positive outlook or good role-models for the future.

    • chiller says:

      You’re missing the point that Philpott genuinely didn’t give a damn about his kids or partners’ quality of life (or even if they had a life – nobody who cared about that would stab someone, or set a fire in a house in which children were sleeping). All he seemed to care about was Michael Philpott, having as much sex as possible, and being celebrated as a hero/big man. He seems to be made of pure entitlement, and as such is an unusual person. My objection is to the Mail’s extrapolation of his sense of entitlement to imply or state that all people on benefits have a similar sense of entitlement. A minority do (0.7%). The rest are either already working (as Philpott’s wife and lover were, with him pocketing their income), or trying to, or unable to.

      Philpott is an exceptional man, and we need to remember that.

  7. Delilah E. Day says:

    Reblogged this on Squirrel in a Nuthouse and commented:
    This is why, no matter how sick I get in terms of my mental health, I will never feel comfortable admitting that I can’t work due to my health. All those folk who are being stamped on by our cold, heartless government have my absolute sympathies.

    D w

  8. Alex Reina says:

    Thank you for this article. yep the Daily Mail is stuck in the Victorian times. How a safety net should operate is debatable but a civilised society has to have a safety net or it simply isn’t civilised.

    • chiller says:

      I sincerely believe that this sort of press does an enormous amount of damage to our society by breeding mistrust and hatred. Thank you!

  9. Chris says:

    Shared; people just dont realise how insideously manipulative the press are.

  10. jo says:

    fab writing there – so typically Mail too… urgh.

    BTW, I’ll see you on Saturday night in WH – your name is way too recognisable – we met at the Dead Can Dance gig a few years back! (god, how stalkery does that sound?)

    • chiller says:

      OMG, DCD was … centuries ago! My only recollection of the gig itself was the enormous queue for the gents’ loo, as all the boys went in there to tidy up their eyeliner! Sadly, I can’t make it to WH this weekend – I’m not very well, but I really hope to see you at another “do” there – so sorry to miss you. :\

  11. Vicky says:

    Linking this crime to the Welfare System is equivalent to linking the recent brutal murder by Stephen Seddon of his parents in Sale to the system by which people inherit their parent’s wealth and possessions when they die (the motivation for the murder) and suggesting that this system is therefore seriously flawed. I somehow doubt that the Daily Mail would do this. It is obscene the way that some have used this tragedy to push their own political agenda.

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