Umm, you what?

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. Nothing is accidental about this regime.

 

But if she’d turned up for the interview then the bennies wouldn’t have been stopped, would they? This isn’t a deliberate policy of starving the poor into committing crimes: it’s a nudge to get them to turn up to interviews.

44 thoughts on “Umm, you what?”

  1. Based on the above, it sounds like the system just needs a little tweak. Instead of immediate cessation of benefits, try docking them 25% for each missed appointment. After four weeks of failed appointments, they’ll reach zero: but then they’ll have no excuse.

  2. Stinks, doesn’t it? How is her partner living off her disability benefit? It was only her disability benefit that was stopped, so she was still getting child benefit, so the child wasn’t starving unless she was spending the child benefit on something else. And let’s not get started on her not apparently having the time to claim her free money.

  3. Everything a “Tory” says is a lie, everything a “35-year-old mother from Kidderminster” says is gospel. Unless she is a Tory.

  4. During a brief period of unemployment and signing on in 2011, I missed an appointment at the Job Centre and was told to come back at the end of the day where they would see me (eventually) along with all the others who had done the same. If I recall correctly, no benefits would be stopped unless you hadn’t turned up in over two weeks and had made no effort to contact the Job Centre and explain what was going on.

    Also in my experience, it helps to be pleasant to the staff if you want things done rather than call them “fucking cunts” and leap over the desk to attack them, as I once observed.

  5. “It’s a nudge to get them to turn up to interviews.”

    Surely it all depends on whether there was a good excuse or not for failing to turn up for the interview.

    The local bus service might have been cancelled. The interview might have been changed to a different time and she wasn’t informed due to incompetence by the Job Centre staff (according to Guardian comments this is quite common). Her child might have needed to be rushed to A&E.

    On the other hand she might just not have been that bothered. Or was down the pub. Or watching Jeremy Kyle on her “wide screen telly” (copyright Daily Mail).

    As always with these Guardian anecdotes we are never given enough information to come to a fair assessment on this particular case or whether it is typical of seriosu problems within the benefits system.

  6. “watching Jeremy Kyle on her “wide screen telly” (copyright Daily Mail).”

    Heh, are the mail still deploying this one? Despite the fact that every TV made in the last, ooohh 10 years at least is 16:9. They’ll be harrumphing over the decadence of owning a portable wireless set or washing machine next.

  7. I think the thing with the widescreen tellies is to view them as a cipher for ‘things poor working people struggle to afford’ – see also, nine kids, endless leisure time, three gallons of lager per day etc

    I’m pretty sure that a lot of poor working folks get by with fairly crap tellies, too. Obviously, better for them to have no telly at all, but that’s another story.

  8. I don’t think that a sanction so apparently disproportionate can be described as a nudge. Though clearly some kind of nudge is necessary.

  9. All these people getting all ‘Patriachy’ over what her partner was doing. Jeez, it’s the 21st century people. Get over this whole ‘a man should get off his arse to support his family’ fascism.

  10. Shinsei,

    “As always with these Guardian anecdotes we are never given enough information to come to a fair assessment on this particular case or whether it is typical of seriosu problems within the benefits system.”

    Her child didn’t miss an appointment with A&E and her bus wasn’t cancelled because if they were, the Guardian would certainly have mentioned it. If she’d called to say there was a problem, they’d have mentioned it. Conversely, if this got cancelled because she’d missed the appointment twice, this won’t be mentioned.

  11. @Dan – one small piece of anecdotal advice; an acquaintance of mine spent one utterly depressing summer working on a government financial advice line for people on benefits who’d got into financial trouble; as his job was to go through their bills with them and see where they could economise, he saw that at least 75% of them had a huge expense on premium Sky monthly subscriptions and the people he spoke to would without fail get incredibly upset when he suggested cancelling it. He only did it for one summer and couldn’t face going back as he didn’t much like being called a cunt half a dozen times a day

  12. @MBE

    ‘I don’t think that a sanction so apparently disproportionate can be described as a nudge.’

    Do we know if she had failed to show up numerous times before? It’s disproportionate (maybe) if it was the first time, if it was the fifth…

  13. In today’s Guardian full-colour poverty porn pullout supplement:

    Today’s Britain: where the poor are forced to steal or beg from food banks

    The “poor” are “forced” to steal or “beg”. All they get is disability benefit (if they’re disabled – this lady was fit enough to shoplift), jobseekers allowance, housing benefit, council tax exemption, free healthcare including prescriptions, child benefit, not to mention the panoply of other benefits they may qualify for: including crisis loans, and indeed, food banks.

    But apparently being a client of a food bank is “begging” now. Won’t somebody please think of the poor, starving food bank customers, clutching their cloth caps and pitifully asking for more?

    Help us, Ed Miliband! You’re our only hope!

    What would you do to keep your baby from starving?

    Starving. He said starving. Was this lady an emaciated, fly-specked wretch from Ethiopia? No, she’s from fucking Kidderminster. You seriously want me to believe this daft cow’s only option to feed her child involved nicking a chicken and a carton of Daz from Spar? Absolute bollocks.

    But if I was going to steal to feed my baby, I’d steal rusks, porridge and other stuff for toddlers. Not a chicken.

    “They miss an appointment so their benefits are sanctioned [docked or stopped altogether], so they have no money, so they steal.”

    So heartless and cruel of The System to expect thirty-five year old adults to turn up at the odd interview in exchange for getting all their needs paid for by the taxpayer.

    describing a national policy: of starving the poor into committing crime. Nothing is accidental about this regime.

    You know, I’m no fan of David Cameron or his government. But stuff like this makes me wish the government could sue lying scumbag journalists into the gutter. This is a national paper – still allegedly a “quality paper” – accusing the government of starving the poor into committing crime..

    If this was true (that’s a technical term for not a fucking lie) it would be the biggest scandal in British politics since the Iraq War, and Chakrabotty would be the greatest investigative reporter of our times.

    But it isn’t true. His only evidence for this astonishing assertion is that apparently the DWP sets targets for sanctions and collates league tables to compare performance across different job centres.

    Well… so what? If you show up for your JobCentre appointments they won’t stop your money. If this is a secret plan to “starve” the poor into committing crimes (and when you come up with a conspiracy theory that retarded, you might want to stop and think why would the government want more crime?) it’s the most incompetent and half-arsed anti-poor measure ever.

    Another sob story:

    the 43-year-old had stolen some meat from the local Sainsbury’s. That crime got him six weeks in prison. A theft worth £12.60 means the taxpayer will spend over two grand to keep Mulholland behind bars.

    Chakrabotty doesn’t mention it, but almost certainly that 43 year old shoplifter had a string of prior criminal convictions behind him. It’s very hard to believe anyone was jailed for a first offence of shoplifting.

    But he has a point here. We should bring back flogging for petty crimes like this. It’s cheaper and more effective.

    remember that this is the same country in which – just a few years ago – over 300 parliamentarians were found to have claimed expenses to which they weren’t entitled

    Let’s flog them too. Or jail them. Or vote them out. But Chakrabotty seems to think that, because some MP’s got off with fiddling their expenses, millions of people should get off with breaking their jobseekers agreement or shoplifting. As if the solution to lawless behaviour is more lawlessness.

    Does he think Mad Max was an advert for social justice?

    David Laws, an architect of the cuts we are living through, resigned after it was discovered that he had funnelled over £40,000 of public money as rent to his landlord, who was also his lover.

    I don’t like David Laws. But there was no suggestion he had committed a crime.

    If this sounds humdrum, that’s what austerity Britain is: humdrum, run-of-the-mill immiseration.

    Oooh. The moneyshot! Fap. Fap. Fap.

    the British choose a government that imposes cuts – and then the poorest are forced either to steal, or to beg from this decade’s other great phenomenon: food banks.

    Or… and I’m just blue-skying here… the poor could abide by the rules they agreed to when they started claiming JSA? Take a smidgen of responsibility for their lives? No?

    another trend: people who’ve had their benefits sanctioned stealing televisions or other items sufficiently expensive to guarantee they’re sent down. That way, they get up to four months in a heated cell, with three meals a day.

    JAIL IS SO CUSHY PEOPLE ARE BREAKING IN! If the Daily Mail ran a story like this, the Guardian would laugh at them.

    They could have read the letters from researchers in the British Medical Journal warning that the rise in food poverty has “all the signs of a public health emergency”.

    Where are all these skinny poor people?

    Lord Freud, a welfare minister, pretended that the spread of hundreds of food banks was because people like a free meal.

    Because if economics has taught us anything, it’s that demand curves don’t exist.

    And it’s best summed up by Joseph Townsend, an 18th-century vicar – and a precursor to IDS in his plans to scrap poor relief.

    Because comparing the situation of our poor – disproportionately, fat people who prefer watching Jeremy Kyle to working – to the plight of starving wretches in the 1700’s is totally not student union debate level bullshit in Guardianland.

  14. @Steve – seriously you should start your own blog – you’ve a way with words I tell ya.

    @Flatcap Army – Sounds about right. My first post-uni job was 6 months at the DWP – though in a leafy southern market town. Wasn’t so bad really, but depressing. It’s why I now support IDS and his reforms – people were just being parked on Disability Benefit and left there.

    Fun fact I learnt from the boys in the fraud department – it’s ALWAYS a member of the family who dobs in the perp.

  15. @Steve

    ‘the 43-year-old had stolen some meat from the local Sainsbury’s. That crime got him six weeks in prison. A theft worth £12.60 means the taxpayer will spend over two grand to keep Mulholland behind bars.’

    The people who most often steal meat from supermarkets are junkies.

    They steal meat – bacon is a big favourite, legs of lamb another (which is why legs of lamb now have security tags on them) – to sell on to people in pubs on estates for £2 a go.

  16. That this entire bullshit “narrative” (Christmas is coming–what about a Narrativity Play?) is possible for the guardianistas is down to the stupidity of Camoron.
    BluLabour have done virtually nothing to stop the inexorable rise of real national debt–but have, at the same time brought in a whole series of petty and pointless little cuts that have saved so little as to be meaningless but have allowed the left to kick off all this “austerity” horseshit. For the amount saved vs the rising debt, BluLab might as well have left things alone and side-stepped the propaganda.

    Another reason of so many that Mr Giant Forehead deserves his place with Bliar and The Bottler as the third wheel on the triumvirate of worst UK prime ministers so far.

  17. ‘BluLabour have done virtually nothing to stop the inexorable rise of real national debt–but have, at the same time brought in a whole series of petty and pointless little cuts that have saved so little as to be meaningless but have allowed the left to kick off all this “austerity” horseshit.’

    Correckt.

  18. Strange, didn’t the Guardian refuse the MPs expense scandal story, and were hostile to it when it first appeared? Looks like the tune has changed!

    Bang on about the shoplifting jailing – you’d need a strong of convictions as long as your arm AND be unlucky to get sent down. Could someone pilfer small value items from the Guardian (small value = less than a couple of thousand of pounds) on a frequent basis and monitor their reaction?

  19. “But if she’d turned up for the interview then the bennies wouldn’t have been stopped, would they?”

    Yeah, right, Tim. She may not even have been notified of the appointment’s existence. That would still go down as her ‘fault’.

    This is nothing to do with the party in government or ‘cuts’, because it’s been this way for years, but the system is unimaginably fucked up. This kind of shit is absolutely not uncommon at all.

    One of my best friends has just been diagnosed with MS in the last year. Following government cock-up after government cock-up, she is now homeless through absolutely no fault of her own, having paid her rent herself from savings and overdraft until funds were exhausted, while fighting a running battle with the council to persuade them to pay the housing benefit she’s clearly entitled to.

    At the current point in time, the council is insisting that her landlord – to whom she pays rent – is actually her employer. It is literally fucked up beyond belief.

  20. Steve

    To echo Dan – time permitting you should really start your own blog – Christ knows we need more sturdy counterweights to the legions of imbeciles on Twitter reparroting the likes of Murphy, Eoin Clarke, Laurie Penny and Owen Jones. Absolutely spot on- the issue is the education system has been so colonised by the Hard Left that dispassionate, critical thinking is becoming a lost art. One thing is for sure – things are likely to get a lot worse before they get better….

  21. I have some sympathy for people in this plight, because if I miss an appointment, my benefits get docked too. That appointment is every fucking day, and the benefits are my salary. I think there’s an official government policy of forcing people like me into a life of crime: it’s the only explanation.

  22. “Rob
    October 28, 2014 at 12:08 pm
    Strange, didn’t the Guardian refuse the MPs expense scandal story, and were hostile to it when it first appeared? Looks like the tune has changed!”
    Allegedly a paper only wanted to publish the expense scandal of some MPs. It could be that the paper was the Guardian and they didn’t want to publish the expenses of Tory mps.

  23. Dave,

    > the system is unimaginably fucked up.

    Agreed. But, weirdly, that’s not The Guardian‘s complaint. Food banks have arisen not to feed people who never get given enough benefits but to feed people who have to wait months for a simple benefit application to be sorted out by the fuckwit state: they are efficiently filling a hole left by the state’s inefficiencies. So The Guardian should be all for them, right? Right.

  24. Anecdote: I came back to the UK in May to visit family. My father had been recently made redundant and was signing on. I wanted to take him on holiday so we went off to Wales for a week. He was meant to have an interview at the dole office while we were there. Fron Wales he called them up and after a few calls getting passed around different people he explained the situation, truthfully, and they just rearranged the meeting. From that experience I feel it must be fucking difficult to get benefits stopped… he told them he couldn’t make it because he was on holiday for fucks sake!

  25. bloke (not) in spain

    “But if I was going to steal to feed my baby, I’d steal rusks, porridge and other stuff for toddlers. Not a chicken.”
    Middle class thinking
    But Interested gets it.
    You steal small, high value, easily concealed goods you can sell, to buy large, hard to conceal, low value goods like rusks & porridge. It’s hard to find anyone at the bottom end, didn’t attend the University of Street Smarts. This is in the Economics 101.

  26. @Rob – Pretty sure that the Graun turned down expenses because they knew Labour MPs were in the poo (the famous “fill yer boots” quote from a Labour whip). Two Tory Lords have been convicted but the only MPs to get sent down so far are Labour

  27. Dongguan John>

    Did you check whether the appointment had actually been re-arranged? It would be pretty normal for them to tell you they’ve rearranged it when actually they’d arranged a second appointment without cancelling the first. If you miss the one you called to cancel, there’s no way to appeal, despite it being entirely their fault.

    It’s Kafakaesque, so you can’t point to stories in the media and say they’re unbelievable because the unbelievable happens every day.

  28. Dave – I don’t know for sure to be honest. I just know he called them up to say he couldn’t make the interview and he told me they said they were ok with it.

    I thought he wouldn’t get away with it and was amazed when he said it was ok (having heard all the Guardian stories!). I was back in China before he went back and he hasn’t told me of any problems.

  29. Vote for Steve from me too! 🙂

    @Dan at 10:55 am, not everyone has a wide-screen LCD telly. We still have a 32″ humongous CRT telly that takes up half the room it’s so big.

  30. @Dave

    ‘This is nothing to do with the party in government or ‘cuts’, because it’s been this way for years, but the system is unimaginably fucked up. This kind of shit is absolutely not uncommon at all. ‘

    Dave, this is what happens when a country devolves everything important in an individual’s life, which used to be the preserve of him and his family, and sometimes his neighbours, to a bunch of faceless and uneducated bureaucrats, often on the end of a phone or an internet connection, also often fairly sadistic and entitled at that.

    Your friend has my sympathy, but this sort of thing is what you should expect.

  31. @S2

    ‘I have some sympathy for people in this plight, because if I miss an appointment, my benefits get docked too. That appointment is every fucking day, and the benefits are my salary. I think there’s an official government policy of forcing people like me into a life of crime: it’s the only explanation.’

    That wins the internet, as I believe folks say.

  32. I think we’re missing the point here guys.

    Was it an organic chicken she stole, or was it one of those ones made out of chemicals?

    Provenance is all. The Guardian should have told us.

  33. Tim Newman

    Not only in Britain. Carrefour has them too.

    Lamb on the hoof: 70 – 80 €
    Leg of lamb: 35€ (X 4, plus the rest…)

  34. Dan,Van_Patten, Squander Two, JuliaM, SadButMadLad – thank you 🙂 I don’t think I could though – Tim performs a public service reading the Guardian so I don’t have to.

    My wife already keeps an emergency packet of jaffa cakes on hand for when my blood sugar is low and I get cranky. The poor woman would be forced to mainline Silver Spoon into my veins if I started reading Comment Is Free every day.

    Interested – well spotted. I haven’t been in a pub in years, but should have remembered being offered the chance to buy sandwich meat from sketchy characters in the less salubrious hostelries. It never really appealled to me even when I was doing my best to live up to the example set by Dudley Moore in “Arthur”.

    I did unwisely buy the odd carton of knockoff Marlboros from Chinese entrepreneurs though – their fags always had the smooth, smooth taste of cyanide and sawdust. But they were cheaper than those pub cigarette machines.

    bloke (not) in spain – I hadn’t thought of that. But… a chicken? I’d fancy my chances of exfiltrating the Spar with a box of Cow and Gate banana porridge stashed in my big coat. Palming a chicken would test even Derren Brown.

    Maybe that’s why she got caught.

  35. Am I the only one who read Tim’s first sentence of commentry and wondered where the Falkland Islanders came into the affair?

  36. Not only in Britain. Carrefour has them too.

    I stand corrected! I only use the Carrefour City, not the big stores. Or maybe gentile 92800 doesn’t need such protections? 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *