Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/760/16491
Tories and press use Philpott case to attack 'welfare culture'
The truth about life on benefits
Nobody can but feel horror and sadness at the deaths of six children, killed in a fire set by their father Michael Philpott.
However, the Con-Dem government, egged on by the baying of the press, has sunk to a new low in attempting to link this tragedy to a so-called 'culture of benefit'.
It's no coincidence that it was during the same week as a number of the benefit cuts came into effect that Chancellor George Osborne said of the case: "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."
But of course the welfare state has nothing to do with what happened to the Philpott children. When, in 2008, millionaire Christopher Foster killed his wife and daughter and then set fire to his £1.2 million mansion following the collapse of a Cyprus property deal, there were no cries for measures to control the rich or investigations into the machinations of property speculators.
Yet the press and the Tories have latched onto this tragedy to have yet another go at demonising the poor and attacking the already shattered benefits system.
An advice worker explains what life on benefits is really like:
I work for an advice agency covering three of the poorest areas of Liverpool and the country. There is crime in the area, which mainly hurts the poorest but is also the crime of poverty - petty theft, drugs and gang violence largely carried out by youth abandoned by government nationally and betrayed by the local council.
Even according to the Daily Mail, there are only 200 families with ten or more children claiming benefits - a drop in the ocean compared to the millions handed out to bankers or uncollected in tax owed by the rich.
Benefit fraud, by the government's own figures, costs under £1 billion - 0.7% of payments. Tax evasion costs over £70 billion.
So what are the government doing? Rather than increase the number of tax inspectors and collectors, they are attacking the civil services and cutting benefits.
On the same day that tax cuts for the rich gave away £1 billion, over 650,000 tenants were threatened with eviction for not being able to pay the 'bedroom tax' - a saving of just £465 million.
Thousands on housing benefit will have to pay more towards their Council Tax - saving the government just £480 million.
Overwhelmingly, the problems faced by the people coming to the agency where I work are those of being thrown off Employment Support Allowance and Jobseeker's Allowance through sanctions - such as the disabled man called for an interview in an office accessible only by climbing some stairs, or the job seeker told that applying for 20 jobs in a week was not enough, or the man whose legs had been amputated due to diabetes who was told he should "bum" his way up and down his stairs. Or the people desperate for food vouchers because their benefit has been delayed.
In its wisdom the government has now transferred claims from the Social Fund - loans or crisis payments - to the city council, from a freephone number to a payment line.
There, claimants are told that details of any loan or payment they get will be sent to their computer or mobile phone.
Government statistics have shown that those most in need have neither a computer nor mobile - or no credit on the phone if they do.
So the poorest and most desperate must find the money to phone a friend to take the details, and wait until a decision is made as to whether they will eat that day or not.
This is a picture of parents going without food to feed their children, of people being forced out of the homes they have lived in for 20 or 30 years, of people losing their benefits and terrified of what the future holds and how they will find the money for food, rent and heating.
Rather than further benefits cuts, we need decent education in properly equipped schools, proper jobs on a living wage, as part of a socialist programme to rebuild the economy.
In the short term, that means a new, mass, campaigning workers' party that could give some hope and direction to those on benefits terrified of the future and living a life of uncertainty, poverty and deprivation.
In The Socialist 10 April 2013:
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
The bedroom tax
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party review