Was George Osborne right to bring Philpott case into benefits debate?

Public affairs professionals are divided over George Osborne's decision to reference the lifestyle of Mick Philpott, convicted this week of the manslaughter of six of his children, in the benefits debate.

George Osborne: Brought Philpott case into benefits debate
George Osborne: Brought Philpott case into benefits debate
The case of Philpott, a father of 17 who lived off thousands of pounds in benefits designed to support many of his children, was controversially picked up by the Daily Mail earlier this week to criticise the benefits system.

Philpott was jailed yesterday for a minimum of 15 years after being found guilty of the manslaughter of six of his children in a botched attempt to ensure they stayed at home.

Osborne’s intervention came amid coalition debates over the possibility of restricting child benefit to a family’s first two children, and provoked a stern response from his opposite number Ed Balls.

During a visit to Philpott's home town of Derby yesterday, Osborne said: ‘It’s right we ask questions as a government, as a society and as taxpayers whether it’s right that we subsidise lifestyles like these. It does need to be handled.’

Balls attacked the comments as the ‘cynical act of a desperate Chancellor’.

Lionel Zetter, public affairs director at APCO, backed Osborne’s comments, saying: ‘He is perfectly entitled to draw attention to the lifestyle that this family had become accustomed to as an extreme example of a lifestyle that has become not uncommon over the past decade or so, which is patently no longer sustainable.’

‘There is no doubt that George Osborne has become a bit of a magnet for criticism over welfare reforms, but it’s only right that he and Iain Duncan Smith should share the responsibility for explaining why these curbs are necessary and how they are going to be applied. Osborne has every right to enter the debate as the custodian of your and my hard-earned pounds.’

But Chris Rumfitt, managing director of public affairs at Edelman, believes the Chancellor’s comments ‘overstepped the mark’, though Labour was also ‘mistaken’.

‘The Chancellor has been a bit crude and clumsy, and he’s overstepped the mark,’ said Rumfitt. ‘But Labour’s response has been just as mistaken – being seen to defend the status quo when most people think that the benefits system needs to be reformed.

‘I don’t like what he’s done but in a sense Osborne has got what he wanted: to be seen as pro-reform, while Labour looks like it is anti-reform.’

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