Tough on crime, tough on the victims of crime. This, it seems, is the Coalition’s version of Blair’s mantra. Last week, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs quashed Labour’s attempt in the Commons to resist one of the cruelest of cuts: compensation for victims of violent crime. Until now, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme has given financial assistance to between 30,000 and 40,000 people a year who have been beaten, raped, scarred, burned and disabled. It awarded amounts ranging from £1,000 to £500,000, according to the severity of the injuries.
But under these cuts, up to 90 per cent of victims will receive nothing. Only the most severely affected can hope for help, with compensation starting at £2,500. What kinds of injuries fall beneath this threshold? Broken ribs. Dislocated jaw. Serious sexual assault. Brain injury lasting up to 28 weeks. And, most disturbingly, repeated burns on a child.
Compassionate Conservatism has never looked so oxymoronic. Compensation isn’t a jolly gift to cheer victims up; it is a vital safety net to help the afflicted repair the damage done and make up for lost earnings. And so it will mean that train drivers left with post-traumatic stress after witnessing a suicide will get nothing. Frontline staff who are punched in the face and left with a broken nose will receive nothing. And, as one of its members experienced, a ticket inspector whose hand is left with several broken bones after being repeatedly stamped on will be left without.
The Ministry of Justice defended these proposals by referring to claims of £1,000 to £2,000 as “small amounts of compensation”. Of course, to an MP on three times the average wage, £1,000 is chicken feed. To a single mother on minimum wage, with ribs broken by her ex-husband and who is in too much pain to do her cleaning job, it could make the difference between meeting the rent and eviction.
When I was a scrimping student 15 years ago, £1,000 transformed my recovery from a brutal attack by burglars. I was left with facial scars and post-traumatic stress. I needed that money for the deposit on a new flat – my home was a blood-smeared crime scene, daubed in forensic dustings and echoing with terrifying flashbacks. I couldn’t go back.
But the Coalition, unencumbered by empathy, will charge ahead with these £50m savings. Instead, a hardship fund of £500,000 – a hundredth of that reduction – is to be set up. Most will go without.
The Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, appeared to be on the side of victims last month when he announced measures that would allow homeowners to use “disproportionate force” against intruders. His department, therefore, is offering victims a knife in one hand while snatching money out of the other. This isn’t so much a cut but a gouge, an evisceration of governmental compassion.