A woman who was fined £330 for stealing a value pack of Mars Bars worth just 75p when she was left destitute by government welfare cuts has received some very good news. A crowdfunding campaign set up for her by those horrified by the decision has now raised over £15,000.
As The Independent reported earlier this month:
Louisa Sewell pleaded guilty to theft at Kidderminster Magistrates Court on 6 August and was fined £73 for the theft, 75p in compensation to the store, £150 in court charges, £85 in prosecution costs and a £20 victim surcharge.
This came to a total of £328.75, more than er 438 times the value of the original item she stole.
Further South, Bath resident Stuart Campbell saw the story and recoiled in horror. He told the Independent:
“I saw the story yesterday, and while you read awful benefit-sanctions stories like this every day now, it seemed an especially dreadful example.
“She was failed by society on so many levels and at so many points down the line it’s just horrific. For someone to have decided to go ahead with the prosecution is grotesque.”
He set up a crowdfunder on Indiegogo, and called it a ‘small act of solidarity’. But the response was huge. The campaign had raised £15,493 at time of writing, and still has a week to go.
The case came in the wake of growing disparity between the treatment of wealthy and impoverished criminals. It is becoming increasingly the case that if a person steals to survive, they pay much greater consequences than if a person steals for fun. There are a string of cases reported on by Scriptonite Daily in the last year which summarize this neatly:
- In December 2014, three RBS Bankers who had conducted more than £3m of fraud were spared jail time because Judge Rebecca Poulet QC said they had ‘suffered enough’
- In March this year, City Banker Edward Drew was dancing with a woman’s legs wrapped around his waist in a busy bar. When a woman nearby asked him to calm down, he became physically violent. When her male friend intervened on her behalf, Drew glassed him in the face. Shards from the glass slashed the neck of another woman nearby. The next month, Recorder Jonathan Cohen spared Drew jail because Drew had a “privileged background and a lot going for him”
- In May this year, Personal Banker Navern Rankin was found guilty of accessing customer accounts in order that fraudsters could pilfer them. He was spared jail because Judge Stephen Kramer QC felt he was “vulnerable” and “exploited and manipulated” by others.
- In June, banker Jonathan Weal avoided jail for hiding a £20m Turner painting from auditors while going through bankruptcy proceedings.
- Property developer Kim Gregory Jones illegally modernised the building behind the hymn ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’, using headstones from the graves of children. He got away with a fine.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the wealth spectrum. Ms Sewell is not alone in facing criminal charges and fines for simply trying to survive. Among many others there is the father from Derby was recently fined £300 and given a six-week community order and curfew for stealing three bottles of baby milk. He is joined by Lucy Hill, who stole food for her family and clothes to sell on to cover her rent after her benefits were cut.
But some are paying far greater consequences for benefit cuts than these punitive fines. Some people are actually dying due to austerity.
- Vulnerable former soldier Mark Woods starved to death after his benefits were cut last year.
- Homeless man Daniel Gauntlett froze to death on the porch of a Kent bungalow because new anti-squatting laws made it illegal for him to go inside.
- 81-year-old Gloria Foster suffered a long and painful death by starvation and dehydration over after her care agency was raided by the anti-immigrant Home Office and her homecare never returned. Mrs Foster spent nine horrifying days dying alone, trapped in her bed, unable to call for help. Her body was found by concerned neighbours after her death.
Add to that the 10,600 sick and disabled people died within six weeks of their Atos ‘fit to work’ assessment on behalf of the DWP, spending their final days and weeks being put through the stress of imminent destitution. These figures apply to just 2010-11, the DWP stopped counting after that.
The inequality of justice and the erosion of the welfare state is of such a scale that we need more than a crowdfund, we need a revolution in the way we manage our society and our economy.
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Featured Image via Indiegogo