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Cutting benefits for offenders

The Government has announced proposals to dramatically increase the deduction from benefits to meet fine payments for those convicted of criminal offences. At the moment the maximum deduction is £5 per week. The new proposal is to increase this to an eye watering £25.00.

Justifying the policy, the Prime Minister David Cameron said: ‘I do not want to be in the business of leaving people without any money to support themselves but, equally, individuals must know that they cannot commit crime that impacts on the livelihoods and the communities of hard-working people without consequences.’ You can read more here.

So if we have someone under-25 years old on jobseekers allowance their benefit would go from £53.45 to £28.48 a week. That’s a reduction of over 50%. For the over 25’s the reduction is about 37%. What is alarming is that the starting figures are supposed to represent the minimum required to live on. Equally those on disability benefits stand to lose a significant reduction in what is provided to mitigate the impact of their disability.

Now it is certainly arguable that this can constitute a double penalty. An offender is properly sentenced for the offence and addition has income reduced to well below subsistence levels.

But it is also potentially unlawful. The Human Rights Act 1998 says that it is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right. So if the government enacts legislation or introduces sentencing guidelines which breach such rights they are open to attack. Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits ‘inhuman or degrading treatment punishment’.

If the state, on the one hand, says that a certain minimum weekly income is required for basic subsistence then to reduce that figure by over 50% it is not only disproportionate but also, in my view, inhuman or degrading. It might of course be argued that if the claimants got a job that they would be no worse off. But in the current economic climate that is unrealistic, especially for young people. The argument is stronger again for those on disability benefits who are unable to work.

The right wing press would respond that this is why they want to get rid of the Human Rights Act. But we are told that a replacement would be a British Bill of Rights. So is the plan to introduce a Bill of rights that would abolish our right not to be subjected to subject to inhuman or degrading punishment? Part of me dismisses that as unthinkable but who knows?

It would be interested to see how the courts would respond to this – provided anyone can get legal aid to access the courts following the government’s new legal aid Bill.

 

 

 

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5 Responses to Cutting benefits for offenders

  1. John Storer Reply

    November 1, 2011 at 9:26 am

    Well done, Steve

    However, there is absolutely no reason why this policy could not be introduced today! I strongly suspect that this speech (and policy) will have been long forgotten by 2013

    The whole policy shows the most astonishing lack of thinking. If you force someone to exist on a pittance, they’ll steal, rob, burgle what they need to get by

  2. Russell Webster Reply

    November 1, 2011 at 11:39 am

    For me it is just a simple logic gap. If you leave offenders not enough money to live on, even those trying to go straight will have to commit some sort of crime just to have enough food. So by appearing to ‘get tough on crime’, this idea merely encourages it.

  3. James Varnfield Reply

    November 1, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    Interesting, it appears to be an attempt by David Cameron to appeal to populist opinion at a time of continued discontent by the people of the UK, evident by recent riots / demonstrations.
    The outcome (as always) tax the poor – and ignore the fact that depriving those that need help and support financially will in all probability correlate to more crimes being committed for financial gain. A pointless exercise it could be argued.

    And absolutely regarding the Human Rights Act I think it is ludicrous it is even being contemplated by the unfortunate powers that be to get rid of something so fundamental, has history taught nothing?!

  4. kev Reply

    November 6, 2011 at 10:02 am

    I could show you evidence of a welfare benefit claimant that was paid in full whilst in Belmarsh Prison. This benefit was “only” stopped because he was deemed fit for work via a medical process that he could not attend or know about as he was in jail.
    The relevant DWP Department, had no record of him being in prison.

  5. Nathaniel Mathews Reply

    November 6, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    It is curious that at a time when Mr Osborne is suggesting inflation freezing benefits Big Dave is getting tough on benefits that criminals get.

    One might imagine the following scene:

    CPS Barrister: Sir, this man was caught shoplifting, and should have his benefits cut.

    Legal Aid lawyer: Sorry, we’re all out of business.

    Perp: I’m only stealing cos you cut my benefits to £25 a week

    Judge: Well let’s see whether getting by on £19 a week well help you mend your ways

    All of us: boo hoo!

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