Dear George Osborne, I Am Not A Sociopath
I would like to address your comments that have been in the national media today, Thursday 4th April.
When asked whether Mick Philpott, the now-notorious killer of six of his seventeen children, behaved in the way that he did as a result of the benefits system in the UK, you replied:
“It’s right we ask questions as a Government, a society and as taxpayers, why we are subsidising lifestyles like these.”
Now I am not the Government, so cannot ask the question ‘as the Government’, but as a member of society and as a taxpayer, I can ask the following questions myself, and seek to offer the following reassurances that I am not a sociopath.
Firstly, while we’re making sweeping assessments about what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’ and what ‘should’ and ‘should not’ be funded from taxpayers money, let’s have a glance around.
As a member of society and as a tax payer, why am I funding lifestyles like, say, Iain Duncan Smith claiming £39 on a breakfast, while I queue in a food bank for an hour in the freezing cold to collect a can of chopped tomatoes, some pasta, and some haricot beans? Why does 20% of my salary go towards these gross excesses, when I cannot afford to feed myself?
How about Sir Peter Vigger’s £1,165 ‘floating pond feature’ for his duck pond? Or for £41,000 of furniture for the Care Services Minister, Phil Hope’s small London flat?
Why, as a taxpayer and as a member of society, am I paying for second and third homes, for soundproofing of bedrooms of MPs daughters, for Laura Ashley curtains for other people, when I have no curtains myself?
Why, as a taxpayer and as a member of society, am I paying for prisoners to have Playstations and to paint their walls in pretty colours, when I have had to cancel my own TV license because I cannot afford the bill?
You talk about excesses and abuses (and to my knowledge no Member of Parliament has murdered his or her children), but to read the Judges speech at Mick Philpotts sentencing today shows a deep, dark insight into the life of a man for whom money may have been a motivating factor, but not the only one. A man obsessed with his young mistress, a man to whom the idea of ‘heroically’ saving his children from a house fire that he started himself. This is not the behaviour of an ordinary man, and should not be used as an example to castigate us all. If you use benefits as a factor, you may as well use his hair colour, or the first initial of his name, for all the relevance it has to his mindset.
You ask why the taxpayers and members of society should be funding this level of depravity, of self-obsession, of injustice – and I ask you, Mr Osborne, to look around you. I ask you to get your own House in order before you start to point fingers at every single mother in the land who claims £20.30 a week in Child Benefit, with your implication, your dividing and ruling tactic, that welfare claimants are scroungers, and hard-working people should be terrified of them all.
Receiving £20.30 a week in Child Benefit does not drive one to fantasise about murder and deception.
I do not doubt that it is true that Mick Philpott would not have been able to sustain his lifestyle without the financial support of the welfare state.
In the same way, your own colleagues, Members of Parliament, would not be able to sustain their own lifestyles without the support of the very same taxpayers. Why do you seem to forget that the ‘squeezed middle’ provide for those at the top, as well as those at the bottom, while freezing and starving themselves?
In your accusation of ‘lifestyles like these’, you are judging every single mother that claims £20.30 per week in Child Benefit, or those who earn so little that they claim Housing Benefit – 80% of new claimants of Housing Benefit and Local Housing Allowance are in work, for your information.
By using the most extreme example as a justification for castigating and bastardising the welfare state, you undermine your own argument and moreover, undermine every single decent, honest person that is in the unfortunate position of having to declare every penny that moves through their bank accounts in order to claim Housing Benefit, or Child Benefit, or any other benefit.
I took the BBC Class Calculator test yesterday, twice. The first time, I answered it as to my current circumstances. I work full time, on minimum wage. I am a single parent to a three year old boy, who attends a nursery while I work. His childcare fees are partly covered by the Childcare element of Working Tax Credits, and I currently receive £20.30 a week in Child Benefit. I rent my home, and currently do not receive any Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit.
I am currently in the lowest social class, that the BBC Class Calculator defines as ‘precariat’.
I also answered it as though I had travelled back in time two years, to my £27,000 a year job and no childcare fees. Under those circumstances, I was the Technical Middle Class.
It is fair to say, then, that I have seen both sides of the coin. And that I am not a sociopath. This hasn’t been assessed by a medical professional, but I am self-assured enough to know that I do not fantasise about burning down my house or murdering my child. Such qualities do not manifest themselves in any decent character, with ones giros, benefit payments, welfare, or handouts.
I understand that the welfare system in this country is in desperate need of reform, and that it is no longer fit for the purpose it was intended. I do not support the hyperbolic public petition for Iain Duncan Smith to live on £53 per week, because I honestly don’t think that he is open-minded enough to learn anything from it.
However, I would like you to take five minutes to get inside the head of a real life benefit claimant, and understand that life on the downward slope, freezing, starving, and applying for jobs every single day, is a much more typical example of ‘what the Government, taxpayer and society are subsidising’ than the Mick Philpotts of this world.
I suggest you visit the link below, and type the words ‘Hunger Hurts’ into the search bar.
Yours, without hysterics and hyperbole,
Ms Jack Monroe