Confused Politics

Politics, economics and funny videos.

Why I Will Not Sign the Petition

with 5 comments

One of the latest government gimmicks is to have e-petitions. If over 100,000 people sign them then the petition’s topic is debated in Parliament. Currently the most popular petition (107,037 signatures at the time of writing) is demanding that convicted rioters should lose all of their benefits. I’m all for cracking down hard on the rioters, but this particular idea is one that I think is both wrong and foolish.

                                                   Steve Taylor

Here is the exact wording of the petition:

“Any persons convicted of criminal acts during the current London riots should have all financial benefits removed. No tax payer should have to contribute to those who have destroyed property, stolen from their community and shown a disregard for the country that provides for them.”

There are, in my opinion, at least three good reasons why you should not support this petition.

  1. Retrospective punishment. Any decent system of justice is based on the idea that changes in the law only affect future behaviour. Turning round and changing the law about what people have done in the past is a very dangerous road to go down. Frankly it’s un-British (or at least it should be) to change the law retrospectively.
  2. We don’t take benefits away from people for other crimes. It’s nonsense to say that rioters are worse than other thieves, thugs, rapists and murderers. If you commit a crime you complete your sentence and then your debt to society is paid. Once you’ve done your time that’s it, the police shouldn’t have the right to come round and punish you more because you’re a bad sort and neither should society continue to punish you forever because it feels particularly outraged about this particular crime.
  3. People may well disagree with me on the principles that found the last two points, but my final point is a pragmatic one. If you permanently deprive everyone convicted of rioting of state benefits then you are basically giving them a choice between living on the streets and funding their lives through crime or dying. A homeless person, with a criminal record, who is not permitted to receive any help from the state is going to have no other means of surviving. So, you end up with a situation where you have a significant increase in crime and everything gets more expensive for the taxpayer (I can assure you that keeping someone in prison is more expensive than keeping them on benefits).I also agree with the moral argument against leaving people homeless on the streets, but regardless of human-decency, the massive increase in crime and prison costs seems like much too high a price to pay to satisfy one’s anger at a bunch of thugs. Despite their unacceptability, the riots do show up real problems in society and frankly cutting off people’s benefits is going to do nothing to solve them.

I expect most of the people who read this wouldn’t have signed the petition anyway, but if you were thinking of it then I hope this gives you pause for thought. If you really want to sign a petition anyway, then I would recommend the one on retaining the ban on capital punishment.


Written by Confused Politics

August 11, 2011 at 10:27 pm

Posted in Law, Politics

Tagged with , , , , , , ,

5 Responses

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  1. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

    Dorthy Kuhl

    August 11, 2011 at 11:50 pm

  2. The thing is, most of the people so far convicted of crimes associated with the riots will receive suspended sentences; although obviously anyone actually in a prison doesn’t receive benefits for the duration of their sentence, this doesn’t apply to suspended sentences, making it feel like the perpetrators aren’t really being punished. I think there’s a lot of anger over the senseless violence and damage that’s been committed, and it’s easy to read what’s been done as a signal that the people involved aren’t interested in being part of society – which makes a backlash of ‘well, you’ll not have the benefit of being part of our society, either’ seem very sensible.

    I’d hope the majority of people signing the petition wouldn’t, on thinking it through, intend for those convicted to be permanently deprived of state benefits – as you say, this would quite obviously not help the situation. But perhaps it’s not thoroughly unreasonable of people to feel the punishments currently being meted out are insufficient punishment, when so few of the convicted emerging from court show any sign of repentance, or even any sense of having done something wrong.


    August 12, 2011 at 10:06 am

    • I agree that there are good explanations for why people would support the petition, just like there are good explanations for why people might riot. I’m just making the point that the petition is wrong.

      Confused Politics

      August 12, 2011 at 10:19 pm

  3. I think the core issue here is that prison is expensive and we lack another means of effective punishment at the moment.

    One idea I’ve had rattling around in the back of my mind derives from the pre-norman justice system whereby an offender when convicted has to pay compensation to the victim (NOT a fine paid to the state) in proportion to the inflicted injury or value of stolen goods or damage. In the case of the riots somebody convicted of, say, burglary or criminal damage gets a value put on their crime and has to pay that back either to the specific shop they damaged or a public fund for repairs etc. They could have the option to work cleaning up rioting damage to pay back the sum (pay minimum wage straight against the sentance fee for cleanup work?) and/or have it docked from their wage (if employed) or benefits. Cheaper than prison, encourages people to work to pay off their debt to society as well as compensating the victims.

    Ian Ingram

    August 12, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    • Isn’t what you’re proposing basically community service with slightly more teeth? I agree that there could be a good case for deducting community service time from benefits at the minimum wage if people fail to complete it.

      Confused Politics

      August 12, 2011 at 10:21 pm

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