04/04/2013 17:50 BST | Updated 07/04/2013 16:19 BST

Sarah Teather Attacks 'Crude' George Osborne For Linking Philpott Case To Benefits

The Liberal Democrat leadership has stayed silent on the row over whether the Mick Philpott case is linked to benefit reform, but former minister Sarah Teather has slammed George Osborne for making the "deeply irresponsible" connection.

The former Lib Dem education minister said on Thursday evening: "I am shocked and appalled that George Osborne has stooped so low as to make a crude political point out of the tragic deaths of six young children. It's one thing for a tabloid newspaper to make unsophisticated, clumsy political arguments, quite another for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to join in.

"It is deeply irresponsible for such a senior politician to seek to capitalise on public anger about this case, and in doing so demonise anybody who receives any kind of welfare support. Mr Philpott should be held fully accountable for his awful actions and it is reprehensible to seek to explain it away by blaming the welfare system which Osborne has been so happy to wage war on.

"On Tuesday, when answering a question about living on £53 a week, Osborne said that it's not sensible to reduce the debate to an argument about one individual's set of circumstances. It makes you wonder what has changed in 48 hours."

Teather was responding to Osborne's decision to weigh in on the debate over whether the welfare state played a part in the Philpot case.

Philpott, who was jailed for life with a minimum term of 15 years today for killing six of his children, lived in a council house in Derby, claimed thousands of pounds in benefit.

When asked today if the family were a product of Britain's benefit system, Osborne said: "Philpott is responsible for these absolutely horrendous crimes, these are crimes that have shocked the nation. The courts are responsible for sentencing.

"But 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. And I think that debate needs to be had."

His comments were sharply criticised by several Labour politicians including Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery, who said he was "horrified" that the chancellor would seek to exploit the deaths of six children for political ends.

"Sick, sick, sick, Osborne outrageously using the unspeakable Philpott case in an attempt to boost public support for cutting welfare," Lavery said on Twitter.

The chancellor's comments came after the Daily Mail caused controversy after running a story about Philpott with the headline 'Vile Product Of Welfare UK'. Critics accused the paper of manipulating the tragedy to make a cheap point.

Teather lost her job as education minister in the September reshuffle, since when she has spoken out against the coalition's benefit cuts.

Nick Clegg has argued that if the Lib Dems were not in government with the Tories the cuts to benefits would be even more severe.