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A 28-year-old homeless man in Chester has been sentenced to over a year in prison after an outburst of rage at his local Jobcentre.

The incident happened in November 2016 at the Winsford Jobcentre,with  a security officer also received a minor stab wound during the outburst.

Lewis Martin Preston, of no fixed abode, pleaded guilty to assault, threatening a person with a bladed item and criminal damage. Preston was sentenced to 20 months in prison at Chester Crown Court last month.

Preston’s case highlights the false economy behind homelessness policy and a Tory austerity-driven welfare system that can force claimants into the most desperate of situations.

Local news outlet the Chester Chronicle reports that the attack was “unprovoked”.

Describing the incident they say that:

While inside the centre Preston was involved in a disagreement with a member of staff. He initially became upset before becoming agitated and aggressive, shouting a torrent of abuse at staff and storming out of the building.

And:

Once outside Preston smashed a large window, before producing a military-style knife and threatening a security officer outside the facility. Thankfully, other members of staff were able to tackle him before he was able to attack the officer, however the victim did suffer a minor puncture wound to his arm during the tussle.

Detective Sergeant Robert Astbury, of Cheshire Police, said:

Preston’s behaviour was totally unacceptable and there is no excuse for acting in the way he did. While he may have been frustrated, to verbally abuse and threaten innocent members of staff is simply indefensible and will not be tolerated.

And that:

Staff at the centre repeatedly attempted to offer support and advice to Preston, but instead of listening to their advice he was intent on abusing staff and blaming others for his difficulties.

While we do know the specifics of this situation, the story will feel familiar to many who have dealt with the Jobcentre, DWP and other benefits agencies since the Tory reign of austerity terror began in 2010.

Earlier this year a man wielding a knife took 5 members of staff hostage at a Jobcentre in Newcastle.

Armed officers and two army bomb units were also called in after witnesses said that they thought the man had a “bomb vest” strapped to his chest.

Nobody was reportedly injured at the scene and the man was promptly arrested and taken into custody.

After this spate of incidents, it seems that Jobcentre may well be driving people into a state where they feel so desperate that they end up resorting to violence.

In 2012 a 48-year-old claimant in Birmingham, tied himself to the railings outside the Selly Oak Jobcenter and set himself on fire, in a truly shocking act of Tory-DWP induced desperation.

An eyewitness told the Birmingham Mail that:

I think it was something to do with a payment he had not received

And:

He would have to have been very desperate to have done something like that.

Recent figures show that crime has risen at the fastest rate in a decade — with austerity being one of the key driving factors behind it.

Whether it be the cuts to the police budget, cuts in the number of officers, or the fact that austerity increases the amount of crimes being committed, such as shoplifting, pickpocketing, and fraud — austerity is a driving force behind much of this.

Austerity and DWP brutality is, of course, also driving factor behind ever-increasing rates of homelessness in this country — around 1 in 5 benefit sanctions leads directly to homelessness.

And far from saving us money, all of this costs the taxpayer more.

The simple fact is, in the case of Lewis Martin Preston, the state, as if by magic, was suddenly able to do something they couldn’t before he attacked Jobcentre staff: rehouse him. In jail.

The homelessness charity, CRISIS, has compiled compelling evidence showing that we spend more on the homeless through services such as the police and the NHS as opposed to rehousing them and supporting them properly.

The homeless use hospitals more, the police spend a great deal of time with them as well – all of this costs us more money than if we just housed people in the first place.

According to HM Prison Service, National Audit Office and Ministry of Justice, the average cost of keeping somebody in prison for a year is £47,000.

Let’s use the case of Lewis Martin Preston as an example — if he was housed properly in the first place then we may have been able to prevent this situation from ever happening, and the maximum it would cost the taxpayer would surely be no more than £8-9,000 a year. Once housed it would be far easier to find work, to work, or study, and so on.

We have to ask ourselves then, why we would rather throw people in prison which costs us so much more than simply re-housing them in the first place?

The system drives people towards desperation and sometimes that ise translated into pure rage — especially if that rage is combined with the incentive of actually getting a roof over your head.

None of this is to justify any violence or attacks on benefits agencies, but we must look sensibly at what is going on here, why it is happening and re-think what homelessness actually means.

The classic stereotype of the down and out homeless man, the beggar – the guy who must’ve really messed up big time and isn’t really our problem – is desperately wrong.

The system is increasingly loaded against us all, which is worrying considering we could all be one or two crises away from being homeless ourselves.

During the General Election (GE), Jeremy Corbyn pledged to end street homelessness by 2020, with another GE looking increasingly likely in the not too distant future.

Let’s hope that soon we’ll be able to put an end to the national scandal that is Tory-austerity-induced homelessness.

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