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Published on August 16th, 2011 | by David Christie
Image © [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="Nick Clegg and Simon Hughes have criticised David Cameron over his proposals to deal with convicted rioters. Image from the Liberal Democrats' photostream"]Nick Clegg and Simon Hughes have criticised David Cameron over his proposals to deal with convicted rioters[/caption] The coalition is divided on the issue of how to punish convicted rioters.  David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith recently suggested that those found guilty of rioting could lose their benefits or council housing, but senior Lib Dems have criticised these ideas.  Nick Clegg and Simon Hughes have voiced their concern at the ‘kneejerk’ policies proposed by senior Tories.  On this issue, the Lib Dems appear to be more in step with Labour than they are with their coalition partners, with Ed Miliband labelling the government’s response to the riots as ‘gimmickry’. The accusation that these measures are ‘kneejerk’ reactions is probably correct, because their logistics do not appear to have been thought through.  If convicted rioters in council homes are forced to move out, they will have to move into accommodation in the private sector.  Presumably, those who are on housing benefit will then need to have it increased, in order to cover the higher rents in the private sector.  This contradicts the aim of the policy, which is to cut benefits for rioters, not increase them.  Or, if the rioters' housing benefit is to be cut as well, and they cannot find affordable housing with private landlords, they will become homeless.  They will then end up on a waiting list for another council flat, rendering the whole exercise pointless.  As for taking other benefits away from convicted rioters, there are still various legal hurdles which the government will have to overcome. There are also questions of fairness surrounding these measures, which add to the perception that their implications have not been fully considered.  For example, is it fair that a whole family should be evicted from a council flat, because of one unruly teenager in the household?  Denying benefits to those involved in rioting, but not to those found guilty of other criminal offences (some of which are more serious), could also lead to glaring inconsistencies.  For example, is it fair that someone who steals a bottle of water from a looted convenience store has their benefits and housing cut, while an unemployed sex offender living on a council estate would get to keep their benefits and council flat? Another move by the Prime Minister which could be viewed as a knee-jerk response is his decision to take on former New York police chief Bill Bratton as an adviser, which has inflamed the on-going row between the government and senior police chiefs over who should take the credit for stopping the riots. So, the police are arguing with the government, the government is arguing with itself, and all that the government has done is to propose some ineffective and ill-thought out measures.  At a time of national crisis, the authorities are in a complete mess.

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Arguments and knee-jerk responses: the authorities in a mess over the response to rioting

Nick Clegg and Simon Hughes have criticised David Cameron over his proposals to deal with convicted rioters

Nick Clegg and Simon Hughes have criticised David Cameron over his proposals to deal with convicted rioters. Image from the Liberal Democrats' photostream

The coalition is divided on the issue of how to punish convicted rioters.  David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith recently suggested that those found guilty of rioting could lose their benefits or council housing, but senior Lib Dems have criticised these ideas.  Nick Clegg and Simon Hughes have voiced their concern at the ‘kneejerk’ policies proposed by senior Tories.  On this issue, the Lib Dems appear to be more in step with Labour than they are with their coalition partners, with Ed Miliband labelling the government’s response to the riots as ‘gimmickry’.

The accusation that these measures are ‘kneejerk’ reactions is probably correct, because their logistics do not appear to have been thought through.  If convicted rioters in council homes are forced to move out, they will have to move into accommodation in the private sector.  Presumably, those who are on housing benefit will then need to have it increased, in order to cover the higher rents in the private sector.  This contradicts the aim of the policy, which is to cut benefits for rioters, not increase them.  Or, if the rioters’ housing benefit is to be cut as well, and they cannot find affordable housing with private landlords, they will become homeless.  They will then end up on a waiting list for another council flat, rendering the whole exercise pointless.  As for taking other benefits away from convicted rioters, there are still various legal hurdles which the government will have to overcome.

There are also questions of fairness surrounding these measures, which add to the perception that their implications have not been fully considered.  For example, is it fair that a whole family should be evicted from a council flat, because of one unruly teenager in the household?  Denying benefits to those involved in rioting, but not to those found guilty of other criminal offences (some of which are more serious), could also lead to glaring inconsistencies.  For example, is it fair that someone who steals a bottle of water from a looted convenience store has their benefits and housing cut, while an unemployed sex offender living on a council estate would get to keep their benefits and council flat?

Another move by the Prime Minister which could be viewed as a knee-jerk response is his decision to take on former New York police chief Bill Bratton as an adviser, which has inflamed the on-going row between the government and senior police chiefs over who should take the credit for stopping the riots.

So, the police are arguing with the government, the government is arguing with itself, and all that the government has done is to propose some ineffective and ill-thought out measures.  At a time of national crisis, the authorities are in a complete mess.

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