Those watching last night’s Channel 4 Documentary ‘The Murder Workers’ could not fail to appreciate the emotional cost to family’s suffering the loss of a loved one by murder. But one fact about the financial costs stood out: the average costs facing a family bereaved by murder are £37,000 – more than the average person earns in a year, before deductions.
The Financial Burden of Murder
A 2011 report for the Ministry of Justice, led by Louise Casey, uncovered some stunning costs faced by the bereaved families. 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 per family. The families receive no support with these costs and many are put into debt as a result. If you are unlucky enough to have a family member overseas, increased costs for travel and repatriation send the costs even higher, to £59,000. If loss of earning is added, the final average costs met by families is actually £113,000.
The result is that 59% of families bereaved by murder struggled with their finances, slipping into debt and bankruptcy.
The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back
On top of this enormous financial burden, those losing a loved one to murder have rather a lot of other issues to deal with at the same time. This is having increasingly devastating effects on those left behind:
More than 80% suffer the symptoms of trauma
One in five become addicted to alcohol (compared to 1 in 16 in the wider population)
1 in 4 stopped working permanently
1 in 4 had to move home
44% suffered relationship problems, divorcing or separating from a spouse
On top of this, in a quarter of cases, the bereaved families gained sudden responsibility for a child/children of the deceased. This has seen Grandparents and sibling of the deceased become parents for traumatised children overnight, while also taking on the debt, emotional and administrative burdens already outlined above.
Where is the Support?
A small and underfunded group called the Victim Support Homicide Service (case workers pictured above) bear 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 budget of just £2m a year, and each case worker is handling 25 families (more than 50 individuals) simultaneously. These people are absolute heroes, providing invaluable support to broken families, helping to put them back together again.
Families can apply to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority to recoup some costs, but 45% of bereaved families reported serious difficulties applying for funding – some waiting more than two years to receive any compensation at all. Louise Casey describes 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”.
Government Reaction to the Report
The Coalition Government’s response to the report has been mixed. In a positive step, they provided an additional £500k for three years to allow families bereaved prior to 2010 access to the Victim Support Service.
On the other hand, they went on to strip £61m (in 2011, and 2012) from the £200m budget for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority – another example of giving something with one hand, while taking away rather more with the other.
Austerity policy is driving the Ministry of Justice to make budget cuts of 23% over four years and the bereaved families of murder victims are being caught up in the process.
The Families Left Behind
Last night’s show brought these bereaved and indebted families to life.
The mother of 19 year old Connor Saunders who was killed by a single punch was eligible to only £5,500 support despite losing the family business after Connor’s death.
Sixty two year old grandmother Jackie Gardner’s daughter was murdered by her husband. Jackie had suddenly become a single parent of her daughter Natalie’s three young and traumatised children.
52 year old Marie Heath (pictured above), mother of Lee Heath, who was viciously beaten to death by a gang of four doormen in a German club also featured. She had to make 29 trips to Frankfurt to be able to attend the trial of her son’s killers. After the trial was completed, she was told she had lost her job as a community bus driver for Essex County Council as they felt they could no longer keep her role open while she recovered from the trauma.
The Louise Casey report opens with the line: “It is often said that a hallmark of a civilised society is how it treats its most vulnerable”. The UK Government’s obsession with cutting the funding from significant social programmes which support these most vulnerable people is making our country a less civilised, less compassionate place.
You can find out about the amazing work, and offer support to Victim Support here.