Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Criminalising the poor in Britain

One of the first things the Conservative-LibDem coalition in Britain did was cut benefit eligibility, requiring beneficiaries to jump through even more pointless hoops to gain state assistance. The purpose of this of course was that some of them would fail, allowing their benefits to be cut off. And now that's having the expected effect: the criminalisation of the poor:

What would you do to keep your baby from starving? Perhaps the same as Lucy Hill. At the start of October, the 35-year-old mother from Kidderminster was broke. After missing an interview at the jobcentre, her disability benefits had been stopped – which left her, her partner and her toddler of 18 months without anything to live on. So she went to the local Spar and stole a chicken and some soap powder.

Two weeks later, Hill was up before the magistrate. Her police interview noted that she said “sorry to the shop … but had no money … and was in a desperate situation”. She was ordered to pay compensation, a fine, costs and a surcharge: a total of over £200 to be taken off someone who’d only committed a crime because she had no money. Her solicitor John Rogers remembers that the mother’s chief worry was that the social services might find out and take away her baby.

After running me through the details, Rogers sighs. Cases like this keep coming his way, he says: “They miss an appointment so their benefits are sanctioned [docked or stopped altogether], so they have no money, so they steal.” His local office now handles “at least half a dozen” such cases each month – up from almost nothing a year ago.

He’s just one lawyer in one post-industrial town, describing a national policy: of starving the poor into committing crime.

The net result of this policy is that "savings" from cutting benefits are spent on police, courts, and prisons, while lives are ruined. But that's not on the welfare budget, and it allows the government to demonise the poor even further.

Meanwhile, its worth considering: our government has pursued exactly the same policy of erecting bureaucratic barriers to force people off benefits. It would be interesting to hear whether we are seeing the same effect here.