A question of survival: Is it okay for the desperate and destitute to shoplift?

Father Tim Jones

Allan Charlesworth, former deputy chief constable of West Yorkshire

Beryl Holliday

Published in News by

York parish priest Father Tim Jones has ignited a furious controversy by saying that, if someone is desperate and destitute enough, it is okay for them to shoplift in order to survive. But is it? STEPHEN LEWIS reports.


Yes...says Father Tim Jones

JUST to set the record straight, Father Tim Jones doesn’t think shoplifting is a good thing. But in certain circumstances, he thinks it might be the only thing left for someone to do. His passionate sermon at St Lawrence’s Church on Sunday was sparked by a former prisoner with learning difficulties who came to him for help.

“What advice should one give, for example, to an ex- prisoner who was released in mid-November with a release grant of less than £50 and a crisis loan, also of less than £50, who applies immediately for benefits but is, with less than a week to go before Christmas, still to receive any financial support?” Father Jones said.

“One might tell them to see their social worker, but they are on a waiting list for a social worker. Tell them to see their probation officer, perhaps, but the probation officer can only enquire of the benefits agency, and be told that benefits will eventually be forthcoming. One might tell them to get a job, but it is at the very best of times extremely difficult for an ex prisoner to find work.

“One might wish that they could be supported and cared for by their family, but many people’s family life is altogether dysfunctional... One might give them some money oneself, but when week after week after week goes by, and benefits still do not arrive, the hard reality is that a vicar’s salary is not designed to meet the needs of everyone whom the benefits agency has failed. What else might one advise? They could beg. But how many of us, good Christian people that we are, give constantly and generously to ex prisoners waiting for benefits? And the likelihood is that, found begging, they will quickly be in trouble with the police. They could perhaps get cereal and toast every morning from a local charity. Then could perhaps apply… for some limited help from the Salvation Army or other such body. But in the meantime, having had only £100 in six weeks, what would you do, every legal avenue having been exhausted?

“The strong temptation is to burgle or rob people. Others are tempted towards prostitution. Instead, I would rather that they shoplift. My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift. I would offer this advice with a heavy heart, wishing that our society recognised that bureaucratic ineptitude and systemic delay constitutes a dreadful invitation and incentive to crime for people struggling to cope at the very bottom of our social order.”


No... say Allan Charlesworth, former deputy chief constable of West Yorkshire, and York MP Hugh Bayley

THERE may well be some people who do fall through the safety net, said Mr Charlesworth. If so, we have a responsibility, as individuals and as a society, to help them. In one sense, the former top cop said, Father Jones has done us all a service.

“Especially at this time of year it is a good idea to remind those of us who have money and property that there are people who are dispossessed, disenfranchised, and dysfunctional,” he said.

“So I understand some of his sentiments. But I think he has taken the wrong approach.”

Father Jones should have raised his concerns about the former prisoner with agencies that could have helped. And he would have been quite justified in raising wider concerns about the way society fails some of the most vulnerable people, through the media or with MPs or councillors, Mr Charlesworth said.

“But it can never, ever be acceptable for anybody to tell someone else to disobey the law, otherwise there would be total anarchy. We would have a totally lawless society.”

York MP Hugh Bayley said there was a social welfare system in place to support those in need, supplemented by excellent charitable organisations. There may be some people who are alienated from society who find it hard to deal with the bureaucracy of the state welfare system, the MP admitted – but they may well find it easier to access help from organisations like Arclight, or the Salvation Army, or Carecent.

He said: “I have had people who have presented themselves to me as destitute and I have been able to find overnight accommodation for them and social security help the following morning.”


What others had to say

THE way the benefits system treats newly-released prisoners is an “absolute disgrace” and effectively forces them back into re-offending, says former prisoner-turned-journalist Mark Leech.

Mr Leech, who now edits The Prisons Handbook and Converse, the national newspaper for prisoners, said benefits are paid two weeks in arrears.

Mr Leech said when prisoners are discharged, they are given a £46 discharge grant.

This will have to last them a fortnight at the very least, because even if they apply for benefits straight away, the benefit will not be paid for two weeks.

He said in practice, because of delays in processing applications, prisoners often have to wait longer.

Mr Leech said it was a national scandal which almost forces ex-prisoners to re-offend because they have nowhere else to turn.

He said: “I cannot go along with what the vicar is saying, because I cannot be seen to endorse that, but I understand where he is coming from”.

Beryl Holliday, of the Salvation Army Citadel at Gillygate, York, said there had been cases where she had been asked to give people a food parcel because their benefits had not come through.

Meanwhile, a Prison Service spokesman said: “Our first priority is protecting the public, by providing offenders with support and information which will aid their resettlement in the community.

“We reduce the risk that they will re-offend.

“Crime has fallen by more than a third since 1997, and the chances of being a victim of crime are the lowest since records began.”

Comments (17)

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9:43am Tue 22 Dec 09

The Cat Amongst The Pigeons says...

I would definitely shoplift if I had too, but just necessity's like food and clothing. And what's this Asda say? The victims are the people working hard in the shops for bonuses??? What drivel. Take the losses out of the big bosses big bonuses instead of the shop-floor workers pittance called pay.
I would definitely shoplift if I had too, but just necessity's like food and clothing. And what's this Asda say? The victims are the people working hard in the shops for bonuses??? What drivel. Take the losses out of the big bosses big bonuses instead of the shop-floor workers pittance called pay. The Cat Amongst The Pigeons
  • Score: 0

10:13am Tue 22 Dec 09

Garrowby Turnoff says...

Are we starting again with comments?
OK then.... Is the 8th Commandment "Thou shall not steal" rescinded.

Discuss.
Are we starting again with comments? OK then.... Is the 8th Commandment "Thou shall not steal" rescinded. Discuss. Garrowby Turnoff
  • Score: 0

10:27am Tue 22 Dec 09

madmagenta says...

Father Tim is quite right. If all legal and lawful avenues have been exhausted and you are in a desperate plight to feed and clothe yourself then you are entitled to take what you need, what you need to survive, not what you want. People who disagree with this have never been on the poverty line, they pronounce judgements on the destitute while they themselves are sitting in a cosy armchair sipping some port. This society of ours has shown itself to be uncaring, materialistic and selfish. We have institutionalised selfishness and greed in a world run by corporations and bottom lines. Wake up people and look after your brothers and sisters for there but by the grace of God you could be one of them.
Father Tim is quite right. If all legal and lawful avenues have been exhausted and you are in a desperate plight to feed and clothe yourself then you are entitled to take what you need, what you need to survive, not what you want. People who disagree with this have never been on the poverty line, they pronounce judgements on the destitute while they themselves are sitting in a cosy armchair sipping some port. This society of ours has shown itself to be uncaring, materialistic and selfish. We have institutionalised selfishness and greed in a world run by corporations and bottom lines. Wake up people and look after your brothers and sisters for there but by the grace of God you could be one of them. madmagenta
  • Score: 0

11:14am Tue 22 Dec 09

Zetkin says...

If Mr Bayley thinks the welfare system works for those in most need, I can only assume he's never had to use it.
`
Hang on, of course he's never had to use it; as an MP he's in the top 5% of "earners" in the country.
`
...and that's BEFORE any expenses claims are added.
If Mr Bayley thinks the welfare system works for those in most need, I can only assume he's never had to use it. ` Hang on, of course he's never had to use it; as an MP he's in the top 5% of "earners" in the country. ` ...and that's BEFORE any expenses claims are added. Zetkin
  • Score: 0

11:17am Tue 22 Dec 09

Fat Harry says...

Father Tim should stand for parliament at next year's election on a People Before Profit ticket.
Father Tim should stand for parliament at next year's election on a People Before Profit ticket. Fat Harry
  • Score: 0

11:38am Tue 22 Dec 09

A taxpayer says...

What are Social Services for?
What are Social Services for? A taxpayer
  • Score: 0

11:46am Tue 22 Dec 09

AdmiralNN says...

Zetkin wrote:
If Mr Bayley thinks the welfare system works for those in most need, I can only assume he's never had to use it. ` Hang on, of course he's never had to use it; as an MP he's in the top 5% of "earners" in the country. ` ...and that's BEFORE any expenses claims are added.
Lets not forget that he has 'flipped' aswell.
[quote][p][bold]Zetkin[/bold] wrote: If Mr Bayley thinks the welfare system works for those in most need, I can only assume he's never had to use it. ` Hang on, of course he's never had to use it; as an MP he's in the top 5% of "earners" in the country. ` ...and that's BEFORE any expenses claims are added.[/p][/quote]Lets not forget that he has 'flipped' aswell. AdmiralNN
  • Score: 0

11:50am Tue 22 Dec 09

redr says...

Tim for Bishop.
Tim for Bishop. redr
  • Score: 0

12:00pm Tue 22 Dec 09

anastasia says...

Fr Tim got your attention though didn't he??

Now are we going to do something so that the poor aren't tempted to shoplift?
Fr Tim got your attention though didn't he?? Now are we going to do something so that the poor aren't tempted to shoplift? anastasia
  • Score: 0

1:16pm Tue 22 Dec 09

TooRad says...

I've done it in the past.
No money, no food.
Wandered round supermarkets helping myself till I was full. Shoved a ham down me pants and see you later.
Served its purpose at the time and guess what, there the supermarkets are, stronger than ever. Didn't bring em to their knees did it?
The ham was cr@p by the way.
I've done it in the past. No money, no food. Wandered round supermarkets helping myself till I was full. Shoved a ham down me pants and see you later. Served its purpose at the time and guess what, there the supermarkets are, stronger than ever. Didn't bring em to their knees did it? The ham was cr@p by the way. TooRad
  • Score: 0

3:15pm Tue 22 Dec 09

Zetkin says...

A taxpayer wrote:
What are Social Services for?
I think that's exactly the question Father Tim was posing.
`
There's supposedly a welfare system to help the most vulnerable and needy. However, it quite often fails.
`
In its tabloid-driven desire to make sure no "benefit thieves" get a so much as a penny, claimants have to wait a fortnight AT LEAST before receiving the money they are are entitled to.
`
So someone released from prison today might have £46 to last them until January 5th, and probably January 12th once you take bank holidays into account.
`
You tell me, how is someone meant to house, feed, and clothe themselves for three of the coldest weeks of the year, on £46?
`
I'd hazard a guess that wouldn't pay for a good night out for many of the people who are condemning Father Tim, especially Asda's mouth on a stick.
[quote][p][bold]A taxpayer[/bold] wrote: What are Social Services for?[/p][/quote]I think that's exactly the question Father Tim was posing. ` There's supposedly a welfare system to help the most vulnerable and needy. However, it quite often fails. ` In its tabloid-driven desire to make sure no "benefit thieves" get a so much as a penny, claimants have to wait a fortnight AT LEAST before receiving the money they are are entitled to. ` So someone released from prison today might have £46 to last them until January 5th, and probably January 12th once you take bank holidays into account. ` You tell me, how is someone meant to house, feed, and clothe themselves for three of the coldest weeks of the year, on £46? ` I'd hazard a guess that wouldn't pay for a good night out for many of the people who are condemning Father Tim, especially Asda's mouth on a stick. Zetkin
  • Score: 0

3:18pm Tue 22 Dec 09

sun seeker's says...

Zetkin wrote:
A taxpayer wrote: What are Social Services for?
I think that's exactly the question Father Tim was posing. ` There's supposedly a welfare system to help the most vulnerable and needy. However, it quite often fails. ` In its tabloid-driven desire to make sure no "benefit thieves" get a so much as a penny, claimants have to wait a fortnight AT LEAST before receiving the money they are are entitled to. ` So someone released from prison today might have £46 to last them until January 5th, and probably January 12th once you take bank holidays into account. ` You tell me, how is someone meant to house, feed, and clothe themselves for three of the coldest weeks of the year, on £46? ` I'd hazard a guess that wouldn't pay for a good night out for many of the people who are condemning Father Tim, especially Asda's mouth on a stick.
It's called "getting off your @rse" get a job!
[quote][p][bold]Zetkin[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]A taxpayer[/bold] wrote: What are Social Services for?[/p][/quote]I think that's exactly the question Father Tim was posing. ` There's supposedly a welfare system to help the most vulnerable and needy. However, it quite often fails. ` In its tabloid-driven desire to make sure no "benefit thieves" get a so much as a penny, claimants have to wait a fortnight AT LEAST before receiving the money they are are entitled to. ` So someone released from prison today might have £46 to last them until January 5th, and probably January 12th once you take bank holidays into account. ` You tell me, how is someone meant to house, feed, and clothe themselves for three of the coldest weeks of the year, on £46? ` I'd hazard a guess that wouldn't pay for a good night out for many of the people who are condemning Father Tim, especially Asda's mouth on a stick.[/p][/quote]It's called "getting off your @rse" get a job! sun seeker's
  • Score: 0

3:39pm Tue 22 Dec 09

The Cat Amongst The Pigeons says...

It's obviously not as easy as that you ignorant @rse!
It's obviously not as easy as that you ignorant @rse! The Cat Amongst The Pigeons
  • Score: 0

4:24pm Tue 22 Dec 09

redr says...

TooRad wrote:
I've done it in the past. No money, no food. Wandered round supermarkets helping myself till I was full. Shoved a ham down me pants and see you later. Served its purpose at the time and guess what, there the supermarkets are, stronger than ever. Didn't bring em to their knees did it? The ham was cr@p by the way.
You should have taken it back.
[quote][p][bold]TooRad[/bold] wrote: I've done it in the past. No money, no food. Wandered round supermarkets helping myself till I was full. Shoved a ham down me pants and see you later. Served its purpose at the time and guess what, there the supermarkets are, stronger than ever. Didn't bring em to their knees did it? The ham was cr@p by the way.[/p][/quote]You should have taken it back. redr
  • Score: 0

4:40pm Tue 22 Dec 09

The Cat Amongst The Pigeons says...

redr wrote:
TooRad wrote:
I've done it in the past. No money, no food. Wandered round supermarkets helping myself till I was full. Shoved a ham down me pants and see you later. Served its purpose at the time and guess what, there the supermarkets are, stronger than ever. Didn't bring em to their knees did it? The ham was cr@p by the way.
You should have taken it back.
and asked for a refund.
[quote][p][bold]redr[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]TooRad[/bold] wrote: I've done it in the past. No money, no food. Wandered round supermarkets helping myself till I was full. Shoved a ham down me pants and see you later. Served its purpose at the time and guess what, there the supermarkets are, stronger than ever. Didn't bring em to their knees did it? The ham was cr@p by the way.[/p][/quote]You should have taken it back.[/p][/quote]and asked for a refund. The Cat Amongst The Pigeons
  • Score: 0

5:04pm Wed 23 Dec 09

oldgoat says...

TooRad wrote:
I've done it in the past.
No money, no food.
Wandered round supermarkets helping myself till I was full. Shoved a ham down me pants and see you later.
Served its purpose at the time and guess what, there the supermarkets are, stronger than ever. Didn't bring em to their knees did it?
The ham was cr@p by the way.
Judging by where you shoved it, that's no surprise!
[quote][p][bold]TooRad[/bold] wrote: I've done it in the past. No money, no food. Wandered round supermarkets helping myself till I was full. Shoved a ham down me pants and see you later. Served its purpose at the time and guess what, there the supermarkets are, stronger than ever. Didn't bring em to their knees did it? The ham was cr@p by the way.[/p][/quote]Judging by where you shoved it, that's no surprise! oldgoat
  • Score: 0

10:20am Thu 24 Dec 09

RacingFan says...

I think we are missing the true meaning of the fathers message; publicity for the cause - if he had simply said dont shoplift no one would have raised an eyebrow but by saying this he has brought an issue into the open by sparking controversey, not only on a local level but nationally too.

I dont honestly believe he advocates stealing, simply a good bit of PR for the cause he cares about.
I think we are missing the true meaning of the fathers message; publicity for the cause - if he had simply said dont shoplift no one would have raised an eyebrow but by saying this he has brought an issue into the open by sparking controversey, not only on a local level but nationally too. I dont honestly believe he advocates stealing, simply a good bit of PR for the cause he cares about. RacingFan
  • Score: 0

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