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James Clappison MP: In response to comments on withdrawal of benefits as a deterrent to rioters

ClappisonJames James Clappison is MP for Hertsmere.

I am very grateful for all of the contributors to the blog, on the point of whether or not benefits should be withdrawn from people convicted of offences during the riots; like myself, many of the contributors felt the same anger which led the public to bombard the E-petition and I understand this is a proposal which has 70% public support. And I strongly disagree with people who suggest that receipt of benefits is a human right: they have and always have been conditional and were rightly conceived by Beveridge as being there for people in need of them at a certain time in their lives. I still believe that withdrawal of benefits would be a deterrent, but the question is; is that deterrent effect important enough to outweigh the other problems which arise with such a step? There is always the problem of sanctions in benefit systems with other people/family members who are affected by benefit withdrawal; there is also the questions of how offenders would support themselves immediately on release from prison and I strongly believe that it is important to have a smooth transition from prison to everyday life.

Probably the only thing I would agree with ‘resident lefty’ about is the importance of finding work for prisoners, creating opportunities for prisoners to work and paying them while they work and is something I signed up to in a previous report of the Home Affairs Select Committee. The present government has ambitious plans for incentivising employment providers to work with prisoners in a bid to get them jobs, the idea being that prisoners should get used to working whilst in prison and should continue working when they leave prison. This would certainly apply to people who have long to moderate sentences as a result of the riots and it is to be hoped that those serving shorter sentences can be found something useful to do as well; preferably repairing some of the damage they have done to society.

Deterrence has its place and those involved in rioting should be in no doubt as to the extent of public disapproval of their actions. Hopefully, this is something the more impressionable will take into account. As I have said, I can completely understand the public anger but the point of having a debate is to reflect and consider the case as a whole. In the light of this and taking a pragmatic approach as to what is most likely to work, I think we should keep the criminal law and the benefit system separate, tempting though it is to use benefits as a sanction. As I said in my earlier blog, the government is doing some excellent work in the field of the benefit system generally, aiming to help people who have been out of work for a long time back into work. It is to be hoped that this approach can be extended to offenders.


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