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The Tragedy of the Philpott Children Is Not That They Lived, But That They Died

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In a week where George Osborne claimed in a speech to supermarket workers that he would make work pay as "the benefit system is broken; it penalises those who try to do the right thing", the Tories could not have found a more fitting poster boy in Mick Philpott for the alleged immorality inherent in the current welfare system.

Just in case the electorate missed the point, the Daily Mail was more than willing to hit them over the head with a hammer with its "Vile Product of Welfare UK" headline above a picture not of Mick on his own, nor of his some say equally culpable wife Mairead, but of Mick surrounded by the six children who died.

What concerns me is not so much that the Mail saw fit to take the stance it has but more why, in a civilised society, they feel so confident that they'll get away with it?

It isn't just an issue for Leveson, nor the fact that Mail editor Paul Dacre chairs the Press Complaints Commission's Editors' Code of Practice Committee. My fear is that the Mail feels free to run these types of stories treating children from poor backgrounds as lesser life forms because many people secretly agree that they are.

In the case of the Philpott children, the Mail has taken this message to heart, blaming the children for their very existence, tagging the whole family "vile products".

Large families living on benefits seem to pose a particular affront to moral sensibilities. A recent Channel 4 series 16 Kids and Counting celebrated large families. It seems as if large families born to working parents are viewed as The Waltons, whereas large families born to parents on benefits are described in negative terms of varying vitriol.

The Mail also predictably blames social workers, who "did nothing" about the household of two women sharing one man and multiple children. A Serious Case Review is currently underway, but Derby Safeguarding Children Board has indicated that there were no immediate child protection concerns.

Regardless of what their critics may say, it is not the job of social workers to act as the moral police of every family in Britain. Nor do social workers monitor the benefits system, that is the role of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Bridget Robb, interim chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, believes that the Philpott case should not be used to justify negative attitudes towards children who are being raised on benefits.

"Men like Mick Philpott challenge a lot of assumptions about good parenting and our tolerance about the extent to which the state should fund different lifestyles", Ms Robb said. "All statutory agents will be examining this case to see if anyone should or could have intervened more effectively, but extreme cases such as this are a bad basis for making policy decisions. The Philpott case should not be the focus for the debate on the welfare system".

If anything, Mick Philpott with his history of violence and exploiting vulnerable teenage girls has more in common with notorious serial killer Fred West than with your average person in receipt of benefits. I do not recall Fred West's finances being scrutinised as a contributing factor to his terrible crimes, but that was in 1994, when welfare reform was less of a concern.

Mick Philpott did not commit this crime because he was on benefits, but because of the narcissistic and controlling person he was. It would be a backwards step in our understanding of human behaviour if we start viewing people's actions through a prism of their income.

The Philpott children were much loved; they had siblings and extended family who will undoubtedly be suffering terribly from their loss. I hope that Mick Philpott's living children will be supported not stigmatised, as Fred West's children have been, by dint of birth through their grief.

If there is a lesson to be learned, it should be that the living Philpott children are supported to break the cycle and not go down the same road as their father.

The local community in Derby has also been devastated by the tragedy, particularly neighbours in Victory Road who witnessed attempts to resuscitate the children as they lay lifeless at the front of the house after being recovered.

The Derby Telegraph printed the eulogies that were delivered at the children's funeral. Please read them and spare a thought for these children who were so badly let down by their parents that they now lie side by side in six little graves paid for by strangers.

Duwayne, Jade, John, Jack, Jesse and Jayden were innocent, happy children and even if you don't like their names or their background, their tragic deaths must not be dismissed as irrelevant because their parents were deeply flawed individuals.

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