Our country just jailed a homeless woman for six months over 50p. This is why the Tories have to go.

Support us and go ad-free

A homeless woman has been jailed for six months for asking for 50p. Despite having difficulties with reading, writing, and understanding, the woman did not have a lawyer. The case is the epitome of everything that is wrong with the Conservative government.

The case

Marie Baker was subject to an injunction after begging from vulnerable and older people. But the injunction didn’t just cover aggressive or targeted begging. It included all begging.

The case centred around Baker asking two people for 50p in Worcester, following that injunction. Baker claimed that she had an alibi and there was CCTV evidence. She alleged the matter was a subject of mistaken identity partly due to a police officer who was targeting her. But without a lawyer, she was unable to present or investigate the evidence that might have acquitted her.

And while District Judge Mackenzie said he was “disturbed and concerned” that she didn’t have legal aid, he sentenced her to six months imprisonment regardless. He further stated:

The breaches themselves, if not trivial, are at a very low end of the scale and something which the court would be very loathed to send Ms Baker to prison for, if anything else could possibly work but this court cannot simply give repeat injunctions and allow people to go continuing begging, continuing to persist in a nuisance to the population, without some real teeth being given to the injunction.

Cuts, cuts and more cuts

Since 2010, the Conservative government has slashed legal aid. Figures from 2015 show that about one in five people facing criminal charges in magistrates courts did not have a lawyer. And magistrates have expressed concern that justice is being eroded. One stated that self-represented defendants:

do not understand fully the process, don’t feel as though justice has been served and you get the impression they are forced to plead guilty because of the fear of fees and court costs, even when they feel they are innocent.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

Legal aid cuts include community care, debt, employment, housing and welfare benefits cases.

There were added difficulties in Baker’s case because the breach of an injunction is a civil rather than criminal offence. Mackenzie explained:

The President of the Family Division made it clear that legal aid in these sort of cases, though it is for a civil contempt, is criminal legal aid. That has caused some difficulty, because of the way legal aid works with solicitors getting fragmented franchises for dealing with specific types of work.

And he attests to it being a common problem:

This court has experienced, on more than one occasion, great difficulties in getting a solicitor who is prepared to deal with criminal legal aid for a committal in breach of Housing Act injunctions. It has proved somewhat difficult.


Meanwhile, issues such as benefit cuts, sanctions and the bedroom tax – to name but a few – have all contributed to rising homelessness. Figures from 2016 show a 16% increase in the number of homeless people from the previous year.

And as Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of homelessness charity Crisis, points out:

Behind these statistics are thousands of desperate people, sleeping in doorways, bin shelters, stations and parks – anywhere they can find to stay safe and escape the elements.


This is what the Tories have done to our country. We are now living in a society where a vulnerable person is unable to get legal aid. And because of this, she is now spending six months in prison.

Meanwhile, cuts to welfare have led to homelessness and poverty. People who need help the most are being denied assistance and are forced into appalling conditions. These cuts are wrecking lives, making people ill, and causing deaths.

But we have an opportunity. We have seven weeks to mobilise people to get rid of this Conservative government. And we have to grab this opportunity. These are not statistics – these are our friends, relatives and neighbours. These are our communities and our services that are being decimated. And it is down to all of us to ensure the Tories do not have a mandate to continue this destruction.

Get Involved!

Register to vote in the 8 June general election. If you don’t have a national insurance number, a 5 minute phone call on 0300 200 3500 will get it sent to you in ten days.

– Discuss the key policy issues with family members, colleagues and neighbours. And organise! Join (and participate in the activities of) a union, an activist group, and/or a political party.

Read more from The Canary on the 2017 general election.

– Support and read news outlets that hold the powerful to account. Here are some we recommend. Please add more that you like in the comments:

The Canary, Media Diversified, Novara Media, Corporate Watch, Common Space, Media Lens, Bella Caledonia, Vox Political, Evolve Politics, New InternationalistReal Media, Red PepperReel News, STRIKE! magazine, The Bristol Cable, The Meteor, Salford Star, The Ferret.

Featured image via Wikimedia and screengrab

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us

Comments are closed