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Government forces through cuts to criminal injuries compensation

A committee of MPs has voted in favour of making cuts to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS), just weeks after criticism of the plans from members of all the major parties forced ministers into a “rethink”.

Every year, between 30,000 and 40,000 people who are seriously injured following a violent crime receive awards through the CICS. According to retail workers’ union Usdaw, the cuts approved yesterday (1 November) by a Delegated Legislation Committee mean that, in future, half of all victims will no longer be eligible for compensation.

The Committee vote came just several weeks after the proposed cuts attracted severe criticism from MPs in Parliament, forcing ministers to withdraw the reforms before voting. The Ministry of Justice stressed that the withdrawal was so that the Government could reconsider the proposals in light of MPs’ comments, but, following the vote yesterday, Usdaw accused the Government of “changing the committee instead of changing the proposals”.

Just 18 MPs had a vote on the cuts and the ten Government MPs included a minister, a whip, four parliamentary private secretaries, the president of the Liberal Democrats, and a vice-chair of the Conservative Party.

The revised CICS is likely to come into force later this month, although the union is calling for it to be debated by the entire House of Commons before the changes take effect.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson told SHP that where less serious injuries have been caused, taxpayers’ money should be directed into providing support rather than redressing victims with “small amounts of compensation well after the crime has been committed”.

He explained: “We listened carefully to the concerns raised and believe we must do more to help those very low earners who may find themselves in real and immediate financial hardship. We are therefore establishing a £500,000 Hardship Fund for people who are temporarily unable to work and not in receipt of Statutory Sick Pay, or an equivalent employer-provided scheme.¨”From December, courts must also consider imposing a compensation order as part of all criminals’ sentences where they’ve caused injury, loss, or damage.”

But Usdaw general secretary John Hannett slammed the move as shameless. “Not only has it slashed vital financial support for innocent victims of crime, it has had the temerity to try and dress this up as “˜doing the right thing’ for them,” he explained. “To add further insult to injury, it tells victims that, instead, they might be able to go cap in hand to an ill-defined “˜hardship fund’ worth just one per cent of the support they have taken away.”

Earlier this week, a Labour MP introduced a new Bill in Parliament aimed at reducing incidents of violence, threats and abuse against workers whose job brings them into face-to-face contact with members of the public. The Protection of Workers Bill, led by Livingston MP Graeme Morrice, creates a new offence relating to assaults on public-facing workers, one that will carry a maximum sentence of 12 months and a £10,000 fine.

The Bill would build on existing legislation to protect emergency workers in the course of their work, including the Emergency Workers (Obstruction) Act 2006 and the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005.

Welcoming the Bill, Hannett said: “Usdaw members are already campaigning for the Bill to become law and we hope the Government will now grant sufficient Parliamentary time for this to be achieved, or, if more appropriate, will consider incorporating the new offence into one of its own pieces of legislation.”

The Protection of Workers Bill will receive a second reading on 1 February next year.

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