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UK finance minister under fire over disabled parking gaffe

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Britain's beleaguered finance minister George Osborne faced fresh pressure over his hardline stance on the social welfare system on Friday after his car was photographed parked in a space reserved for disabled drivers.

Osborne, a deeply unpopular figure among critics of his government's austerity programme, apparently went to pick up lunch from a McDonald's at a motorway service station, unaware that his driver was parked in the space.

"George does not condone this in any way," a Conservative party source said.

Osborne's ministry was yet to officially comment on the photograph of the Land Rover, which was splashed on the front page of the Daily Mirror tabloid with the headline: "Despicable".

The chancellor's car had stopped at a motorway service station in south Wales after he had made a speech in Cardiff.

Osborne has had a tough week, overseeing the introduction of widespread reforms to state benefits which churches, charities and the opposition Labour party say will punish some of the most vulnerable people in Britain.

On Thursday, he stoked criticism by linking the high-profile case of Mick Philpott, a man jailed for life for killing six of his children in a bungled arson plot linked to hefty state handouts, to the welfare reforms.

"Philpott is responsible for these absolutely horrendous crimes, these are crimes that have shocked the nation," Osborne said.

"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."

Osborne's critics seized on the comments, with Labour finance spokesman Ed Balls accusing him of "nasty and divisive" tactics.

Philpott was jailed on Thursday for a minimum of 15 years for manslaughter, while his wife Mairead was jailed for at least eight and a half years.

With 18 children in total by six different mothers, Philpott was already a notorious figure, dubbed "Shameless Mick" by the press for his feckless lifestyle funded by hefty state welfare handouts which he flaunted on TV shows.

The case has sparked debate over whether the killings can be linked to the benefits system after the Daily Mail tabloid reported the guilty verdict with the headline: "Vile product of welfare UK".

The changes to the welfare system introduced this week include a cap on the total benefits that working-age people can receive, and a housing benefit cut for people whose state-owned homes are considered larger than they need.

It is not the first time that Osborne has been embarrassed by his travel arrangements. Last year, he was forced to rebuff allegations that he tried to travel in a first class train carriage using a standard ticket.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130405/uk-finance-minister-under-fire-over-disabled-parking-gaffe