The Compensation Culture

The Compensation Culture has been the inevitable follow up to political correctness. Where peoples 'politically correct' rights are infringed then it is only 'right' that they can claim compensation. Some of this is written into UK laws (such as the employment legislation) but most of it seems to be enshrined within the Human Rights Act.

It now seems to be established that whatever happens to you in life must be someone else's fault - the natural risk of living is a thing of the past. Even if you are doing something illegal at the time don't worry, the PC Brigade has arranged it so you can still get your compensation. So if you are burgling someone's house and they get quite angry when they catch you - you may be better off to provoke them a bit more and have them attack you than you would be if you just stole their video. £20 for the flogging the video down the pub or £10,000 in compensation for taking a beating - it's your choice. (this strategy can have a downside though - best check the electoral roll first and avoid any houses occupied by anyone with the surname of Martin!)

If you employ people then you are definitely at risk from compensation claims. Everyone is out to sue their employer on any excuse at all - even if they are just doing the job they are paid for. Policemen on duty at disasters have often sued their police authority and received more in compensation than the families of the victims. To me, the police attending disasters is all part of the job and a natural risk. That is not to say that when individual police officers suffer stress from their job that they shouldn't be helped by their employer who should definitely have a strategy of assistance in place. But in this and in other claims for compensation, why should they be awarded money and how does it help? If someone runs into your car then it is right that they should pay to have it repaired or to pay for your osteopathic treatment if you have suffered whiplash. This is direct compensation for your loss. If in all claims for compensation you had to prove your actual loss then I think the compensation culture would die overnight.

Take claims for sexual harassment at work. When I was a lad, if you thought a girl had a nice cleavage then you would mention it to her. The girl was always pleased to be thought of as attractive and walked off with a smile on her face. Now she would pretend to be upset, be off work for weeks with stress and then sue her employer for compensation as she is well aware that these claims can often run to £1 million. I have asked my wife to leave extra buttons on her blouse undone whilst at work in an effort to boost our retirement funds!

Individuals can also be sued. Those generous people that gave up their time so freely to help out with school trips or the Scouts movement are all at terrible risk. Each year they have to do more and more courses before they are allowed to run any event. Most see the workload too high and the risks as unacceptable and stop doing it. The result is that the children miss out on trips which keep them healthy and teach them life skills. The Promotion of Volunteering Bill, a bill to protect these camps from the compensation culture by accepting the concept of natural risk, was blocked by Andrew Dismore, Labour MP for Hendon who spent three hours and one minute on his hind legs and ran the bill out of time. (Voters in Hendon please note! - Ed) The bill was backed by the Guides, the National Council for School Sport and the Youth Hostel Association.

Now councils, schools and charitable organisations have no choice but to impose new and frequently ludicrous rules to protect themselves from litigation. The Daily Mail recently highlighted many examples. Children enjoying donkey rides on the beach at Bognor Regis are forced to wear hard hats, and hanging baskets in Bury St Edmunds have been removed from lamp posts in case they fall on someone. And in Blackburn, the council has banned backstroke in a local swimming pool because of concerns that swimmers may crash into each other. Many schools no longer allow children to play conkers for fear they will get hurt, and in Crudwell, Wiltshire, one primary school banished home-made cakes from its fete after the council raised fears over food poisoning. Derby County Council advises schools to cancel trips if it is too sunny for fear that children will get sunburned. Oh, and don’t forget Hertfordshire County Council which dictates that parents must not provide their children with goggles for swimming lessons — in case they spring back and hit the little darlings in the face. The fear of a lawsuit or losing their job has led many teachers to behave in completely ludicrous ways

In some cases, very young children had been asked to treat their injuries themselves, with a nursery worker instructing them how to open a plaster and stick it on. There is a moral panic around the issue of touching children because of the fear of compensation claims and because people are frightened of losing their jobs. In one playgroup in Stockport, staff told how a mother had objected after her three-year old son had his bottom wiped while in their care. After a lengthy discussion, they finally agreed to let the mother know at the end of each day if her son had used the toilet. Many teachers also said they were following guidelines not to apply sun cream to children because of fears that this could lead to accusations of sexual abuse. Recently, schools faced further confusion when they were warned that they could be sued by parents for not protecting pupils against the risk of sunburn! With the PC Brigade, you are damned if you do and damned if you don't!

The latest news from the very PC Health & Safety Executive is that all firms must now carry out expensive risk assessments to see whether staff are suffering any stress! While genuine stress must be taken seriously, the condition is so difficult to define and so easy to fake that this diktat amounts to a charter for troublemakers, the work shy and the compensation culture. Most claims for compensation can be financed by legal aid of course. So to most claimants it is just like buying a lottery ticket, only the stake is paid for by the taxpayer. So win or lose, you may as well have a go! The bill for legal aid in this country (2004) has topped 1 billion pounds (which is 37% up on the 1997 figure!) The Government has recently announced plans to establish a new super-quango - The Equality and Human Rights Commission - to hunt down discrimination on - well almost any grounds at all really. This will only lead to more greedy lawyers fuelling a culture of complaint and compensation to the detriment of British business which is already struggling against competitors from EEC countries that tend to ignore political correctness issues.

The whole compensation culture hangs on the idea that we can behave as badly as we like, be totally irresponsible and ignore common sense and then when things go wrong we can blame it all on someone else and claim our 'compo'. It is summed up in the following joke (well it may soon be reality rather than a joke if the PC brigade get their way):-

A woman said to her friend ‘If I smoke, I can sue the tobacco companies should I get cancer. If I am fat, I can sue McDonald’s for the risks associated with obesity. So can I sue Smirnoff for all the ugly bastards I have slept with over the years?’.

Perhaps that's why the PC Brigade don't like humour - it shows their ideas up for what they really are! You can tell that it is a multi-billion pound industry just by the number of adverts on daytime TV and Radio pointing out to people that if they have had an accident in the last six years then they may be able to get some 'compo'. This works well as most local councils just pay out without any fight as they find this is cheaper in the long run. In the USA they have 'ambulance chasers' which are lawyers that will follow an ambulance to the hospital and offer to help the patient get their 'compo'. This awful idea seems to have spread to the UK and this type of firm are now writing to all GP's surgeries offering them a commission on all accident victims they persuade to contact them! Thus the compensation culture is just another PC device that ruins our lives......

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