The Daily Mail has shocked many with its attempts to politicise the tragedy of the Philpott children, whose benefit-claiming father was convicted of their manslaughter by arson yesterday.
If you thought the front-page splash was bad, you should flick to page 14 and read columnist A.N. Wilson’s views on people that live in social housing. With the apparent exception of pensioners, Wilson reckons council estates are inhabited by “moral degenerates” just like the Philpotts:
“Philpott happened to live in Derby, but versions of the Philpott family can be found in any town in Britain.”
“Whole blocks of flats, whole tenement buildings are filled with drug-taking benefit fraudsters, scroungers and people on the make.”
Wilson’s diatribe is the exemplar of comment which invokes the moral agency of “scroungers” while also claiming that the worst cases emerging from poor areas are an inevitable consequence of the welfare state:
“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.”
“What the Philpott trial showed was the pervasiveness of evil caused by benefit dependency.”
Even Ann Widdecombe — who visited the Philpott house while filming a documentary — has resisted the temptation to generalise in this way, never even mentioning the tragedy in her column for the Express.