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article imageOp-Ed: Call Me Dave — Stupid rhetoric on crime and benefits

By Alexander Baron     Oct 29, 2011 in Politics
Britain's out of touch Prime Minister has come up with yet another knee jerk solution to a purported social problem: increased fine deductions for out of work offenders.
David Cameron went to Eton; in spite of this illustrious and expensive education, he appears to have learned next to nothing. He has almost certainly never heard of the American broadcast journalist Eric Sevareid (1912-92), and has certainly never heard Sevareid's famous maxim that "the chief cause of problems is solutions"; if he had, he would stop to think before he attempts to apply a solution to a problem which may be not such a problem at all, or even totally imaginary.
Back in August when all decent people - and even only half-decent ones like the current writer - were both horrified and disgusted at the riots, he came out with the superb suggestion that council tenants who were convicted of riot-related offences should be evicted.
Rather than being a solution to a problem, that would have been creating a problem where none existed. Most of those convicted of riot-related offences have received stiff and in some cases exemplary sentences; the Court of Appeal explained the reasons for this in considerable detail when dismissing the appeals of two men who were given four years apiece for attempting to incite riots on Facebook (even though no one turned up).
A person convicted of a riot-related offence or offences has received enough punishment. First, there may be a fine, second, most likely a loss of liberty with perhaps a fine on top. Court costs, maybe, and perhaps most damning, a fairly serious criminal conviction that will follow especially a young person through the rest of his or her life.
Anyone who thinks that is not the worst punishment of all should think again. Nowadays, a criminal record for any offence of dishonesty precludes any sort of job much less a career handling money, even working on a supermarket check out.
A conviction for violence will rule out any career or job that involves working with children, old or vulnerable people, or almost any job that involves working with the public. When one considers that in the automated, hi tech future any sort of gainful employment will be a buyers' market, this is punishment indeed.
An assault may be something as trivial as pushing or pushing past someone, especially a police officer. Technically, it does not even have to involve physical contact but a mere threat of contact. Try explaining to a prospective employer that all you did was wave a newspaper at a police officer, or push past someone in a crowd.
As always, there is room for the dishonourable exception, like the 1,063 serving police officers who have criminal convictions including 77 for offences of violence, two for battery and one for wounding. That was in early 2009.
Cameron's latest proposal is cut from the same cloth as his previous one; people on state benefits who fall foul of the law and are fined should have the maximum deduction a court can make increased from £5 to £25 because ordinary people (like him as he implies) think the current state of affairs is intolerable. Last year, the comrades over at Socialist Worker published some interesting background information on Cameron, his family connections and his personal wealth. If Bill Gates were walking down the street and dropped a hundred dollar bill, he might not even bother to pick it up. Cameron isn't quite in that league, but if he were to be docked £25 per week from his salary, he wouldn't notice. Heck, he doesn't even need his salary, but £25 a week or even £5 a week is a lot of money for someone who is stuck on benefit and has no prospect of earning a living wage. What might such a person do if he or she were to lose a sizeable percentage of a means-tested benefit?
One obvious possibility is commit more crime, or perhaps fall into the clutches of a loan shark, or fall behind with the rent and be evicted.
As usual, Call Me Dave proposes a solution that creates even worse problems. What he should really propose is that people on benefits should not be fined at all but should be given some other punishment. It might even make sense to put such offenders on community payback and similar schemes and pay them beneath the market rate, so that they would both contribute something and be punished without suffering unnecessary hardship, and also get motivated to find work. A fine should hurt an offender, but only in the wallet, and this is without considering other factors, such as dependent children.
One person who unlike Call Me Dave often makes intelligent comments on crime, social exclusion and related issues, is Nick Clegg. This is probably because unlike David Cameron he did not have the dubious benefit of a public school education, and that as a convicted arsonist, he realises that had he come from only a slightly less privileged background, he too might have ended up unemployed, unemployable, and perhaps even pillaging shops during last summer's riots.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about David Cameron, Nick clegg, Crime, welfare benefits, eric sevareid
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