Framing the Philpotts: anti welfarism and the British newspaper reporting of the Derby house fire verdict

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Abstract

This article analyses the newspaper reporting of the Mick Philpott manslaughter verdict of 2013. Philpott is an unemployed British man who in May 2012 set fire to his house, accidentally killing six children. This article argues that the Philpott verdict provided a valuable propaganda opportunity for British politicians and elements of the British media to link the crime to ‘welfare reform’ at a time when the coalition government had begun to target welfare benefits for cuts. In particular, it is argued that the demonization of Philpott as a member of the white British underclass converged with an intensification of conservative and anti-welfarist arguments about the United Kingdom’s benefits system, reviving and reinforcing the Victorian concept of the ‘undeserving poor’ and the related notion that benefits are a reward for good behaviour rather than a right. Examining articles from national newspapers published in the days following the announcement of a guilty verdict in the trial, this article analyses the discursive framing of the stories in order to discover what kind of ideological messages were at work in the reporting of the Philpott verdict and what sorts of differences existed between these messages. The article concludes with an attempt to set this analysis in a wider socio-political context, considering how the press’s perspectives on the story relate to the ideological (re)framing of public discussion about welfare ‘benefits’ and claimants in the United Kingdom today.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-98
JournalInternational Journal of Media & Cultural Politics
Volume10
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2014

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