The current welfare reforms have caused such an outbreak of unison knee-jerk reactions that the MSM are in danger of looking like a 'Riverdance' tribute act.
In the midst of the argument - after a startlingly short time, given the usual glacial pace of the justice system - stands Mick Philpott, appearing just in time to polarise opinions completely and give the straw men of the Left another outing.
Any suggestion that the benefits system is at fault for allowing - or encouraging - this man to treat his women as brood livestock and effectively farm their children for the income they generated is met with a barrage of hostility amid accusations of attacking all benefit claimants.
Like Karen Matthews before him, Mick Philpott embodies some of the worst aspects of human nature; someone prepared to exploit and ultimately endanger his own children for personal gain. It's nothing new, of course; it's the same behaviour that has for centuries led beggars to parade and even mutilate children to enhance their chances of soliciting alms.
But what has changed is the way that child benefit and tax credits have skewed the system. Each new child, instead of being an unwelcome extra mouth to feed, now represents a substantial and all-too-easily generated increase in income; the less you earn, the more tax credit the child brings in. Successive well-meaning efforts to tackle child poverty have led to payments at the lower end of the spectrum that can dramatically exceed the child's actual costs to the family.
Take, for example, the couple who recently appeared in the news arguing that, because of the taxes paid by their parents, they were entitled to a life of leisure on state benefits; the breakdown of their income given suggested that they receive £20 child benefit and £60 tax credit payments a week for their daughter (caveat: Mail). The child in question is all of four months old; she's hardly even on solid food but it appears that she's getting more than the jobseeker's allowance.
Equally, in the Philpott case, it's hard to see how 11 children could justify the alleged £45,000 a year allocated for their upkeep, given state-provided schooling (with meals), healthcare and housing. But, just as we saw default rates rise when social housing tenants were expected to take charge of their own finances, some of this money must be going to people who cannot - or will not - manage to put it to its proper use.
The defensive reaction against the welfare cuts has left me wondering whether many of the most vociferous critics have tacitly accepted that, because a minority of parents on benefits will misappropriate the child-related payments, the only way to avoid child poverty is to throw more public money at all of them in the hope that, when their parents' wants are met, some leftover cash will eventually filter down for the benefit of those children at greatest risk of deprivation.
The effect of this is to render young single mothers highly vulnerable to predatory older males, for whom they represent a significant source of present and potential future income. Younger men, still waiting to find suitable housing, simply cannot compete. There's a horrible irony in the way that a welfare system which should be the hallmark of a civilized country has, in effect, returned a sector of the population to the social structure of the great apes.
One of the most frustrating aspects of this media fuss is that, amid the strident criticism of the cuts and the implication that to censure a single claimant is to condemn them all, we seem to be losing sight of the way that excessively large families intentionally conceived and reared on welfare payments must effectively reduce access to resources, both financial and supportive, for those who unexpectedly find themselves in need.
The safety net of the welfare state was devised in an age where pride and a work ethic made it a genuine last resort; now the kind of people it was meant to help - the newly unemployed or homeless and families in genuine hardship - must queue up behind those who, like Philpott, have been knowingly playing the system for years.
There are some interesting perspectives on this story at Unenlightened Commentary and Burning Our Money (which has made a welcome return).
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