COMMUNITY groups and politicians have spoken out against the impact of benefits sanctions after a man with a previously unblemished criminal record appeared in court claiming he had been driven to steal after his benefits were stopped.
Gordon Curtis appeared at Dumbarton Sheriff Court recently where he admitted stealing a watch and bracelet from Carniedrouth Farm, near Cardross, on November 12, 2013.
The 37-year-old was in the area looking for farm work and when he found no one was in, broke in to the house and took the items.
His solicitor told the court the crime ‘was one of desperation’ after he had problems with his benefits, and had to get quick money to survive and support his family.
There have been a number of instances in England since the introduction of sanctions where people have been convicted of crimes after having their benefits stopped.
One high-profile case highlighted an incident in which a young mum who shop lifted to feed her 18 month old baby after being sanctioned.
Curtis was sentenced to 120 hours of unpaid work, to be done within six months and placed him under supervision for a year.
Following the Curtis case, councillors and community groups have called the incident ‘a sign of the times’.
The SNP’s Jonathan McColl said many councillors are no longer shocked at the desperate measures some people take.
He said: “Sadly such cases of impulse theft are becoming more and more common because the welfare state safety net that is supposed to be there to help people in desperate circumstances is being cut away.
“It’s not just that welfare budgets are being cut, but just as dangerous is are the changes in assessments and the criteria applied when the DWP sanction people. Every councillor in West Dunbartonshire has heard heartbreaking stories from their constituents and we are powerless to do anything to change the systems.
“But there are enough people out there who care and support is available. Anyone who finds themselves in such an impossible situation should contact the council, CAB, or Independent Resource centre, all of whom can point them in the direction of the help they need from local community groups and other organisations.”
Socialist councillor for Leven Jim Bollan told the Reporter the case was ‘not surprising’.
He said: “It is not rocket science to understand when poverty and despair deepens, crime will rise.The riots in London a few years ago are a precursor to what is to come in many of our cities and localities as the inhuman brutal cuts from the Tories deepen.
“Sanctions are punitive, immoral, and force many people into actions they would normally never consider.
“More and more of my constituents are having to go to foodbanks as the cuts gather pace. We are in a class war and people will fight in many different ways to feed themselves and their families.”
Christina Logan, of Lomond Foodbank, said she hadn’t come across with anyone who has committed a crime because of sanctions directly, but admits these are desperate times.
She said: “These people are in absolute desperation. I’ve had people not eat at all for days between food bank visits. I know of one case of someone eating bread from bins at a large supermarket in the town. Someone spotted them, and the next time they went back, they’d poured bleach all over their bins.
“I don’t condone anyone stealing at all, it’s wrong to steal from anyone, but if you have children, what are you to do?”
A solicitor in Dumbarton told the Reporter: “I am aware anecdotally of cases where people have explained their stealing as being forced upon them by harsh economic pressures. I couldn’t say I’m aware of strong evidence that Benefits Agency Sanctions are directly contributing to an increase in crimes of dishonesty, although loss of benefit can often force people to resort to desperate measures.”
The above article is from http://www.dumbartonreporter.co.uk/