Cameron backs Osborne over Philpott killing

David Cameron stepped in to strongly defend his chancellor today, after he was criticised for linking the Philpott killings with welfare reform.

The comment comes after opponents expressed outrage at what they branded efforts to politicise the killing of the six children.

"He is absolutely right," Cameron told the BBC reporter Peter Henley.

Cameron said Philpott was responsible for the crime and then added: "But what the chancellor went on to say is you should ask other questions about our welfare system.

"We want to say welfare is there to help people who want to work hard, but it's not a lifestyle choice."

Mick Philpott was jailed for life yesterday for setting fire to the Derby home , with the judge branding him a dangerous man with no moral compass.

After a speech on welfare reform, Osborne backed newspaper editorials which had connected Philpott's crime with the welfare system.

"Philpott is responsible for these absolutely horrendous crimes and these are crimes that have shocked the nation; the courts are responsible for sentencing him," he said.

"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."

Sources in No 10 said said the prime minister backed his chancellor over the comments and would support him if asked about it over the next few days.

But Osborne's comment triggered an angry response from the Labour team, with the shadow chancellor saying Osborne had demeaned his office.

"Chancellors have to think very carefully before they comment on the issues of the day. How they do so says a lot about the character of their chancellorship," Balls said.

"That is why I believe George Osborne's calculated decision to use the shocking and vile crimes of Mick Philpott to advance a political argument is the cynical act of a desperate chancellor

"For the chancellor to link this wider debate to this shocking crime is nasty and divisive and demeans his office."

Liberal Democrat former children's minister Sarah Teather also weighed in, saying: "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 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."

Many right-wing MPs and newspapers linked the lifestyle of the family to the benefits system after it was revealed the man was able to claim £54,253 annually along with his partners through child benefit.

The Daily Mail ran a controversial headline calling him the product of 'welfare UK', adding that he "embodies everything that is wrong with the welfare state".

The Sun's editorial initially went further, saying: "Let's hope this is the last time the state unwittingly subsidises the manslaughter of children".

Its later editions changed the sentence to: "Let's hope this is the last time the state unwittingly subsidises monsters like Philpott".

Even the Times said the case showed the Conservatives should "look again" at plans from Iain Duncan Smith to cap child benefit after the first two children – a  move which was prevented by the Liberal Democrats.

That proposal is particularly controversial because it would force children in large low income families into further destitution, but it is now likely to feature in the 2015 Conservative manifesto.

Cases of such large households are relatively rare. There are just 180 families in the UK with more than ten children who are reliant on benefits.

Child benefits have already been withdrawn from higher rate taxpayers.

Meanwhile, the Mirror's front page showed Osborne standing beside the door of his Land Rover in a restricted bay at an M4 service station.

A Tory source said the vehicle reserved into the space while the chancellor went into McDonalds.

"George does not condone this in any way," the source said.

The photograph is particularly embarrassing for the chancellor amid cuts to disability services, with charity Scope saying 3.7 million people will be affected by welfare reforms.

"They will see this as rubbing salt in their wounds," chief executive Richard Hawkes said.

"Many are already struggling to make ends meet, yet the chancellor's response has been to cut vital financial support and squeeze local care budgets."