If you lose a loved one to murder in Theresa May’s Britain, it could cost you £37,000. This story has been simmering since 2011. But a recent scandal has cast a new and brighter light on the issue. Austerity governments are failing to fund victim support services, and it’s the public who are paying the price.
The price of murder
A 2011 review [pdf] for the Ministry of Justice, led by Louise Casey, uncovered some stunning costs faced by bereaved families. In the wake of a murder, families face a wide range of costs including inquests, civil prosecutions, accommodation (often the family home becomes a crime scene), probate, travel to court, trial transcripts, and even cleaning up the crime scene.
These costs were an average of £37,000 [pdf] per family. And for those unlucky enough to have a family member killed overseas, matters are even worse. Increased costs for travel and repatriation left those families with an average bill of £59,000 [pdf]. If loss of earnings is included, the total average costs met by families is actually £113,000 [pdf].
The result is that 59% [pdf] of families bereaved by murder struggled with their finances, slipping into debt and bankruptcy. Among those who lose a loved one to homicide:
- More than 80% [pdf] suffer the symptoms of trauma.
- One in five [pdf] become addicted to alcohol (compared to 1 in 16 in the wider population).
- One in four [pdf] stopped working permanently.
- One in four [pdf] had to move home.
- 44% [pdf] suffered relationship problems, divorcing or separating from a spouse.
On top of this, in a quarter of cases [pdf], the bereaved families gained sudden responsibility for a child/children of the deceased. At the same time, they are also taking on the debt and emotional and administrative burdens already outlined above.
Where is the support?
A small and underfunded group called Victim Support, which runs a Homicide Service, bears the brunt of helping these families through the long, costly and torturous process of burying their loved one, fighting for justice and finding emotional closure. They have a miniscule [pdf] budget, and each case worker is handling 25 families (more than 50 individuals) simultaneously.
Families can apply to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) to recoup some costs, but 45% [pdf] of bereaved families reported serious difficulties applying for funding – some waiting more than two years to receive any compensation at all. Casey describes [pdf] the fund in the following terms:
the CICA system is another example of a fragmented and wasteful service. This system has failed to shape itself around victims’ needs and, as a result, many families face terrifying levels of debt.
Have things changed?
Following the review, the government announced the Homicide Service budget would increase to £2.85m per year. This positive step was undermined by the government then stripping £61m (in 2011, and 2012) from the £200m budget for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA). Another example of Conservative governments giving something with one hand, while taking away rather more with the other.
David Hines, chairman of the National Victims Association, said he was furious at the funding cut:
It’s an outrage. Quite frankly it should be increased by £200m and decent payouts made to the victims of homicide and victims of serious crime.
The government failed to heed his warning. And the consequences have been devastating.
In 2008-9 [pdf], CICA handled over 79,000 cases, took an average of 9.7 months to complete a case, and paid out £234.6m to victims. By 2016-17 [pdf], CICA was down to just 34,500 cases a year, taking an average time of 11 months to complete a case, and paid out just £142.3m of compensation. And by July 2017, a fresh scandal exposed yet grimmer outcomes of the cuts.
No support for child victims of rape
As The Canary’s Steve Topple reported:
Children as young as 12 who are survivors of rape and sexual assault are being refused compensation by the government. The grounds for its denial in some cases? That the children ‘consented’ to their abuse.
A group of five charities submitted a Freedom of Information request (FOI) to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA). And it revealed that CICA has refused to compensate over 700 children who had been raped or sexually assaulted. Even when the perpetrators of the crimes had been jailed. The group of charities says that, in some cases, CICA told survivors it was because they had consented to their rape or sexual assault.
The Guardian reports that Barnardo’s, Victim Support, Liberty, Rape Crisis, and the National Working Group (NWG) have written to Justice Secretary David Lidington, demanding he reviews CICA guidelines.
CICA was using the literal interpretation of consent, rather than the legal interpretation of consent. For example, statutory rape exists because legally no person can consent until their 16th birthday. And in cases of child abuse and grooming, an abuser manipulates the underage person into submission. That is also not lawful consent. But CICA chose to abandon these distinctions, and reduce their compensation payouts. And it is likely that enormous constraints on their ability to fund compensation is at least a driver in this dire series of decisions.
The human cost
In her 2011 ‘Review into the Needs of Families Bereaved by Homicide’, Casey wrote [pdf]:
It is often said that a hallmark of a civilised society is how it treats its most vulnerable. This is frequently used in regard to those we incarcerate. I would like to suggest that this could also be applied to those who have a loved one taken from them by a criminal act, through no fault of their own. And if we judge our society on the basis of their treatment – I wonder if we are as civilised as we think.
Casey was right in 2011, and she is sadly still right today. Once again, despite public outrage and an inquiry – the government has only paid lip service to its recommendations. And blameless victims of crime have suffered the consequences.
– Contact your MP about Victim Support and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority
– Contact Support After Murder and Manslaughter (SAMM) for advice and support
– If you, or someone you know, need to talk, call Childline on 0800 1111.
– If it is a medical emergency, or someone’s life is at risk, dial 999.
– Support YoungMinds, the voice for young people’s mental health and well-being.
– Volunteer with Childline.
Featured image via YouTube screengrab
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