Conservative MPs would be wise to hold back from defending their government’s awful decision to scrap or slash compensation for innocent people maimed or injured by criminals. They could nail their colours to the mast now but find that they later have to explain that the government got it wrong and succumb to public pressure.
This was brought home to me very forcefully on a recent visit to Tesco in Ashington, Northumberland, where I was backing the campaign with local representatives of the shopworkers’ union Usdaw for a change in the law to protect shopworkers and other public-facing employees.
They point out that verbal and violent assaults on shopworkers have increased by 83 per cent in the last year, according to research by the British Retail Consortium. Usdaw members are furious that the out-of-touch Tory-led government has scrapped the criminal compensation available for the kind of typical assault injuries that their members face.
Usdaw’s Freedom From Fear campaign is run every November and aims to prevent violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers. Usdaw wants the law to be changed to give its members better protection and Graeme Morrice MP’s private member’s bill, the protection of workers bill, would increase sentences for assaults and abuse.
The previous Labour government introduced similar protection for emergency workers. But it is right that all public-facing workers should have the same protection. This includes teachers, shopworkers, health visitors, postal workers and bus drivers who all face high levels of verbal and physical abuse at work.
Yet we have misguided and huge cuts to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme which gives victims some financial recompense for injuries if the assailant can’t pay. Such compensation is often a major factor in their recovery from an attack.
The current scheme makes awards to between 30,000 and 40,000 people each year who are seriously injured following a crime of violence. The cuts mean that in future half of all victims will no longer be eligible for compensation and almost 90 per cent will lose out, including those most seriously injured and even extending to the dependents of murder victims.
These changes will come into force later this month and would deny the many retail staff injured every year in robberies and assaults at work any redress. Now victims might be able to go cap-in-hand to an ill-defined ‘hardship fund’ worth just one per cent of the support ministers have confiscated.
The cuts mean that victims of violent crime who suffer injuries such as permanent speech impairment, multiple broken ribs, post-traumatic epileptic fits or burns and scarring that cause minor facial disfigurement, will no longer be eligible for any compensation.
Victims who suffer injuries such as significant facial scarring, punctured or collapsed lungs, permanent brain injury resulting in impaired balance and headaches, fractured joints including elbows, knees and vertebra, resulting in continual significant disability, will have any compensation reduced by up to 60 per cent.
New conditions for payments for loss of earnings will limit payments to the level of statutory sick pay, currently just £85 a week. In addition, payments will also be limited to those who are never able to work again, or only in a severely reduced capacity, and compensation for loss of earnings will be denied to any victims with a broken work record during the past three years.
My Conservative opponent for police and crime commissioner in Northumbria has his work cut out in claiming to put victims first when his government has failed to do anything to protect workers against assault and is now slashing compensation. Putting victims first is vital and a major part of my own platform.
Vera Baird QC is Labour candidate for police and crime commissioner in Northumbria. The elections take place on Thursday 15 November. She tweets @verabaird
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