BENEFIT sanctions have been dubbed as “pure evil” after a woman had to steal food and groceries to feed her family when her money was stopped.

Lucy Hill, of Westcott Road, Kidderminster, was caught taking chicken and washing powder from a Spar store on October 1, after first stealing more meat two days earlier.

The 35-year-old’s Employment Support Allowance had been sanctioned after she missed an appointment at the Job Centre and her defence solicitor, John Rogers, said it was “necessary that she committed this offence” for the good of her partner and their 18-month-old baby.

And now the public have rallied behind her agreeing they would have to steal as well in her position, with Kate Bennett from the Wyre Forest Citizen’s Advice Bureau saying sanctions are doing more harm than good.

“The whole idea of sanctions is to stop people from taking the Mickey, and that’s fine, but this is starting to get too much now and to be a punishment,” she said. “You can get a four-week sanction for a silly mistake or for being late and it might not be your fault, and they are sometimes counter productive, as you can see that some people shoplift as they haven’t got enough money to live on.”

ESA claimants in the work-related activity group, where an adviser assists them with training and skills, like Hill who was convicted of two counts of theft which she said was a result of the suspended payment at Kidderminster Magistrates’ Court on Thursday, October 16, are subject to sanctions. These are handed out for failing to attend a mandatory interview or failing to take part in a work-related activity.

In the district in the last 12 months, there has been a 30 per cent increase in the amount of people getting their benefits sanctioned.

“People who have tax payers’ money should do all they can and have to to get it but we should be helping people like this woman,” Ms Bennett said.

“It’s not just the job seekers that suffer from being sanctioned, it’s the families.”

On The Shuttle’s Facebook page, members of the public shared the same view.

Sue Longley said: “Sanctions are pure evil and should be outlawed completely.”

Sy Hawkes said he would do the same as Hill.

“I am in full support of anyone who needs to steal food because the Government has essentially taken away their right to live.

“How can they reasonably expect people to help themselves and be respected in society both by other people or employers when they are made to suffer. It’s no easy ride even when you do get benefits, but when they sanction those benefits it leaves people with no choice at all. You either have to beg, steal or borrow to stay alive or you commit crime after crime to put food in your belly.”

Another victim of a sanction was Bonnie Bullen who said she was sanctioned for two months after being five minutes late for an appointment, despite having to support three children.

The benefits sanctions system is set to be overhauled by the Department for Work and Pensions as it was revealed suspended payments have gone up 64 per cent across the country, and some claimants will be able to apply for hardship payments in place of sanctioned benefits.

Anyone experiencing sanctions should visit a local CAB or foodbank for help.