Justice secretary Ken Clarke.

The Criminal Injuries’ Compensation Authority, the government body which issues compensation to people who have been physically or mentally injured as the innocent victims of violent crime, is the latest scheme on the chopping block by the coalition. Following a consultation by the Ministry of Justice, the government recently published a response outlining proposed changes to the Criminal Injuries’ Compensation Scheme- the set of criteria which determines eligibility for, and the size of, the award. The hope is that between £40m and £60m will be saved from the £200m annual cost of the scheme.

Only injuries which disable the victim for at least six weeks are compensated under the current scheme, with the compensation increasing with the severity and effects of the injuries from Band 1 to Band 25. Maximum awards vary from £1000 to £500,000 depending on the band, and in 2009/10 only 57% of applicants received compensation. The scheme is rigidly policed, and the payment can only be made if it can be shown that the applicant was blameless. The tariff payments have not increased since 1996 which allowing for inflation means a 48.5% real terms cut has been made since.

The CICA is the only option for most victims of violent crime to seek any recompense, as pursuing a criminal or civil claim for liability is futile if the assailant is not caught, or does not have the means of paying their victim. Equally, if the crime happened while at work, it is incredibly difficult to make a claim against employers’ liability insurance.

Research by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw) has shown that only 9% of victims with the most severe injuries or fatalities would be eligible for the same amount of compensation as under the current scheme- with 50% receiving nothing in future, and 41% receiving a reduced award.  Bands one to five are being completely scrapped, which include injuries and conditions such as “permanent speech impairment” and “post traumatic epileptic fits”. Successful applicants would have previously been eligible for between £1,000 and £2,000 compensation. Bands six to twelve, which currently attract awards between £2,500 and £8,200, would be cut by between £1,500 and £2,000 each. Injuries in these bands include “significant facial scarring” and “permanent brain injury resulting in impaired balance and headaches”. The research also showed that payments for loss of earnings for those off work for more than 28 weeks would be reduced to the level of Statutory Sick Pay (£85 per week)- including those who are unable to work again and dependents of fatally injured victims.

That people with severe and often life changing injuries and conditions as a result of being the innocent victim of a violent crime are having their compensation abolished or reduced is absolutely sickening. The financial implications of the aftermath are wide ranging, and can cause further unnecessary distress. It is not uncommon for victims to find themselves in debt, having had to take time off work to recover or returning to work in a different capacity to allow for their injuries (for example). A large percentage of people don’t earn enough to be over the threshold for Statutory Sick Pay, while those that do qualify would usually see a large reduction in their earnings. Compounding innocent victims’ suffering by heaping on additional financial worry seems cruel in the extreme: the payments are not generous at the present but will allow a little bit of financial breathing room, as well as providing closure in many cases. For many, criminal injuries’ compensation is the difference between getting by and destitution in the aftermath of a violent crime.

The government talk of ending the “compensation culture”, but why should someone who has had their lives turned around not be able to seek recompense? I’m sure if you asked most recipients of the compensation award from CICA, they would happily forgo their compensation in return for never having had the incident happen in the first place. I cannot underline enough that these are blameless victims of crime, there but for the grace of God go all of us. When the cuts to CICS are coupled with the cuts to legal aid and so on, it seems justice isn’t very high up the coalition agenda. If they’re looking for new U-turns, might I suggest this as one of them?