The government-funded Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, which pays damages to victims, has been forced to increase its spending hugely to cope with the growing demand for awards.
But with the Government aiming to crack down on rising public expenditure, the compensation payments will have to be funded from cuts elsewhere in law and order spending.
Home Office papers state that the board will overshoot its pounds 160m budget by between a quarter and a third in the 1992-1993 financial year. They predict that an overspend of between pounds 30m and pounds 50m is likely. If the estimates prove correct, the amount paid to the victims of crime will have quadrupled since 1986.
The extra money being spent by the board this year will have to be clawed back from other parts of the law and order budget. The Treasury is refusing to make any additional funds available. The Home Office Police Department, which supervises the forces of England and Wales, has been told that it must help to make up the shortfall by cutting costs. The department, which is facing an pounds 8m budget deficit itself, has ordered a moratorium on all new spending.
Union leaders describe the spending constraints as extraordinary. Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said: 'The Government is caught in a vicious circle. Crime is up because of the recession, so there are more victims claiming compensation. Ministers' response to this is to cut the budgets of the very people who are supposed to prevent the crime which is causing all these financial difficulties.'
A Home Office spokesman said that the predicted budget overspend was merely an estimate. It was too early to say what the real cost of compensating victims would be this year.
'We will be looking at the financial implications of this very carefully,' he said. 'The number of claims for compensation is outstripping the rise in crime largely because better publicity is ensuring that more victims know about their rights to an award.'