Some 46,000 individuals were physically injured during the Troubles, with thousands more psychologically traumatised by its consequences.
One of Julian Smith’s last pieces of official business as Secretary of State was to sign-off on the regulations on a pension payment scheme for seriously injured victims of the Troubles.
This payment scheme has been advocated by the Wave Trauma Centre and the Commission for Victims and Survivors since 2013 as a means to provide financial security for many victims who were left disabled and inadequately compensated in the past.
The passage of time compounded their harm, with many of those injured have found their disability worsen in older age as their health deteriorates and their financial security becomes more precarious, especially in the past few years of austerity.
Despite the victim pension regulation coming into legal effect on the 24th February 2020, Secretary of State Smith’s departure and local political parties highlighting that the NI Executive budget cannot afford to pay for all victims, it places the delivery of the victim payments in jeopardy. The Executive Office has this week stated that the scheme in its first year will cost roughly between £25m and £60m, with the first three years amounting to £109m. This will take a substantial chunk of the financial commitment made in the recent agreement around increased funding for legacy of £250m, which is also supposed to cover the establishment of the HIU, ICIR and IRG legacy institutions under the Stormont House Agreement.
It is worth outlining the nature of the scheme to provide some insight into how it will operate in practice and why it will cost this much. The scheme’s official title under the Victims’ Payments Regulations 2020 is the ‘Troubles Permanent Disablement Payment Scheme, and will official operate from the 29th May 2020 when the first applications will begin to be processed. A Board will be established before the end of May and be responsible for the running and management of the payments scheme. The Board will be presided over by a judge and will be guided by principles on the need to be responsive to and prioritise victims’ needs, to be transparent and communicate effectively, the Scheme to be simple to navigate, applications to be determined without delay, and for personal data to be handled sensitively.
Those who will be eligible include anyone who has suffered a permanent disablement more than 14% of a Troubles-related incident in the UK, in Europe where the person is a British citizen born in Northern Ireland, was outside UK in service of the Crown, or accompanying close relative of the person serving outside the UK in service of the Crown. The time period for such an injury is between 1 January 1966 and 12 April 2010, though the panel can overlook this time period if it undermines the purposes of the scheme. Given the coverage of injuries, which could include hearing loss, loss of a thumb and PTSD where causing disability, it is likely to include thousands of victims. Added to this is the inclusion of victims not only in Northern Ireland, but also those in the UK injured. Both these factors increase the scope and cost of the scheme, that perhaps move it beyond a NI Executive matter, but one for the government in Westminster.
In terms of injury amounting to disablement this is defined in the Regulations as ‘damage, disfigurement and loss of physical or mental capacity resulting from injury’. This will be assessed by a health professional through an applicant’s paperwork where available through the VSS or medical records, rather than requiring each individual to be medically assessed in person. The level of disablement will also determine the monthly payment amount or lump sum of the claimant, which is likely to range from £2,000 to £10,000 per year. There are also provisions for those over the age of 60 to choose a lump sum, and applicants will be prioritised for assessment for those who are elderly or terminally ill.
Support will also be provided to family members who had to give up careers and education opportunities to become full-time carers through a ten-year pension on the death of the injured victim. Under the Regulations a carer is someone who ‘regularly and substantially’ engaged in caring for the injured victim, such as being entitled to a carer’s allowance. Given the scale and time to which the pension for injured victims and carers will entail, it is likely to operate for around thirty years, creating a substantial expense that would go beyond the current budget of the NI Executive.
One contentious issue, which has dogged the pension for injured victims for many years, has been whether or not those who were injured by their own hands would be eligible. Under the Regulations they are explicitly excluded. In addition, individuals who have convictions longer than two and half years or life sentences can also be ruled ineligible by the Board, where it is considered a payment would be inappropriate. As the scope of injury is quite broad, including physical and psychological injury amounting to permanent disablement this is likely to exclude a number of individuals with convictions, but were also unlawful harmed and may be difficult to square with the scheme’s purpose of acknowledgement and reconciliation.
Despite the complexity of the Regulations and its scope to include thousands of victims in Northern Ireland and the UK, it is likely to incur a substantial financial commitment. Seriously injured victims cannot wait any longer. Already some of the initial campaigners for the pension have passed away. As the scheme covers the whole of the UK it only makes sense that the budget for the payments should be covered by Westminster to ensure that it is promptly, adequately and effectively delivered to all victims who deserve this acknowledgment and redress. For too long injured victims have shouldered the burden on the Troubles, and rightly the government should act in good faith to ensure these victims’ financial security and dignity in later years.Read Article