Having posed the question you may have anticipated my answer. No. There is always a victim and I shall now endeavour to prove it to those of you who may disagree. People call crimes victimless, or don’t even rgard their activities as crimes, in order to try to diminish what they are doing. An article in today’s paper tells of a woman falsely claiming benefits
for children that have been taken into care by Social Services quotes the woman as saying she has doesn't consider herself to have done anything wrong. This has become quite normal these days.
What people actually mean when they say that something is a “victimless”crime is that you can’t point a finger at an
individual and say that that person is a victim of the crime. That would be too specific. If it were possible to point a finger in that way then people would see the crime and the effect it has on the victim(s). It might give them pause
for thought. It might make them think again about the cost of the crime they have committed. It would make it all personal. So the perpetrators say that the crime is “victimless”,or not a crime at all, and then they are able to live with
Often these sorts of crimes are committed against businesses, particularly big, multinational businesses. The excuse, and I have heard it many times, is that “they can afford it”. So what if the shareholders get a smaller dividend. They’re all rich plutocrats sunning themselves on their yachts in Monte Carlo, sipping champagne out of their mistress’s belly buttons
and lighting their cigars with twenty pound notes. By use of a stereotype such as that it suddenly becomes not just a victimless crime, but a moral obligation to take the plutocrats down a peg or two; it’s just another battle in the class
war. It’s all self-deception, because the shareholders never suffer. The cost of so called victimless crime is always paid by Joe and Joanna Public, or“mugs” as we’re known to the people who commit “victimless” crimes.
No matter what the scam or crime the business never carries the cost. We, the consumer, carry the cost. Every Single Time. Every Single Penny.
Let’s think about one of the more common “victimless” crimes: Insurance fraud. Person A has a minor shunt in their car,
driving into the rear of another vehicle and causing a couple of scratches to the rear bumper. Person’s B, C and D (some of whom may not even be in the car that is hit) then submit claims for whiplash injuries, other non-existent injuries and loss of non-existent property. Person A’s motor insurance pays out and persons B, C and D walk away laughing. Does the motor insurance company absorb the loss and reduce the dividend to shareholders? Do they heck as like.
They spread the cost of the claim across the premiums of all the other holders of policies with the company, so we all pay more.
As much as one third of all car insurance premiums are made up of the cost of fraudulent claims. Next time you gasp at the cost of your car insurance policy renewal think about that. Now, are you starting to feel like a victim of crime?
Motor insurance is only one area where fraudulent claims are made of course. They’re also made against household insurance, travel insurance, in fact just about any insurance that the public buys.
Of course some crimes aren’t even thought of as crimes. It’s just something that happens. Typical amongst this is the illegal recording, or downloading, of music or films. I don’t mean to sell on market stalls as pirate copies. I mean just to pass around amongst friends or relatives. Why is this a crime? Apart from the breach of copyright, which is inherent in such recording, it actually defrauds the owners of the music or film. Person A records the music or film, or these days downloads it from the internet, and passes it to persons B, C and D. That means that persons B, C and D don’t have to buy a copy themselves, so the copyright owners don’t get the income from the sales that might have accrued. On a small scale this might be considered insignificant, but of course persons B, C and D may well make their own copies and pass them to person D, E and F, who do the same and so on until I have used up all the letters of the alphabet, and the Greek alphabet and all the other alphabets in the world. Not such an insignificant crime now, is it?
So the record or the film company don’t make so much profit. Who cares? They can afford it, can’t they? Those big film and pop stars can afford it, can’t they? Of course they can, but they aren’t the ones who are going to cover the cost. Guess who is. Have you ever wondered why it costs so much to download music from the internet, or to stream videos of your favourite films or TV series? To buy e-books? A proportion of the cost is the compensation the distributers add in to cover the loss of sales caused by the illegal copying and sharing. Yup. Once again Joe and Joanna Public are carrying the cost of
someone else’s criminal activities. A music file downloaded from Amazon costs maybe 50p or maybe £1 for the latest release. Maybe a third of that cost is the direct consequence of illegal file sharing. The latest book releases by major
authors cost between£5 and £12 even for an e-book. Again a proportion of that cost is a consequence of illegal file sharing. Are you starting to feel like a victim of crime yet?
A classic “victimless” crime is shoplifting. This is my personal bête noir. Every single thing we buy in a supermarket or in other shops has a premium attached to it to cover the cost of shop lifting. We are all victims of this. Some people, however, are more victims than others. Just like the rest of us, those on low incomes pay more for their food and clothes and other purchases than they should because of shoplifting and they are the ones who can least afford it. But wait, there’s a double whammy to this. The premium that's added to cover the cost of shoplifting of certain products (clothing in particular, but also other commodities) then has VAT added to it. So for every pound that is added to VAT chargeable goods the customer pays an additional 20 pence in VAT. Yes, the government actually generates tax income from shop lifting.
Shoplifting is estimated to have cost retail businesses £511 million last year. So that’s £511 million that will have been added to the price the things we buy. If half of those thefts are of things that have VAT charged on them that then means that an additional £51 million of VAT will have been added to the price of goods. And guess who paid it. Now are you starting to feel like a victim?
All this pales into insignificance when it comes to the crime perpetrated on government and local government. Millions, possibly even billions, of pounds worth of tax is levied just to meet the cost of “victimless” crime perpetrated against the tax payer. That’s you and me by the way. Let’s start with the big, obvious ones and work our way down the level of
awfulness until we reach the level where most people just shrug their shoulders and say, “well what can you do?” or “ It isn’t doing any harm.”
Tax evasion That is the illegal withholding of taxes on income that is liable for taxation. Common among the rich but also surprisingly common among people not so rich and justified on the grounds that “if it’s OK for the rich to do it then its ok for me to do it as well.” This tax evasion includes non-declaration of “cash-in-hand” payments, which is an area the rich aren’t involved in (unless they’ve got a window cleaning round on the side). The government doesn’t have any money. Every penny they spend comes from the taxes we pay. The less tax that is collected because of evasion the less money there is to go round. Public services suffer, which means we suffer as a consequence. The welfare budget is deprived of money so the most disadvantaged in society are given less help than they might need. State pensions are held at lower levels than they should be because the government can’t afford to increase them. So, when you’re retired and shivering in your home in the winter and wondering whether to pay your gas bill or to buy food and you can’t afford both, you try and tell me that you’re not a victim of crime.
To compensate for the loss of tax revenue the rest of us, the ones who pay our taxes, have to pay more. Think about that the next time the plumber offers you a discount for cash, because that discount represents the tax he should be paying and isn’t.
Working while claiming benefits. I’m not talking about those benefits that people are legally entitled to claim while working, but to those that they are specifically NOT allowed to claim while working. That’s unemployment benefit, or Job Seekers Allowance as it is called these days. This can be“cash-in-hand” work but also includes the systematic mployment of people on low wages in the knowledge that they are probably also claiming benefits. The problem of tax evasion, discussed above, persists in this area making us all victims, but worse is the effect it has on wages overall. If employers are able to pay low wages to one group of people then it has an impact on all low paid workers. Can’t afford to work for
such a low wage? Bad luck mate. I’ll just wait for some other mug to come along who will.
Everyone who works on minimum wage is a victim of people who work and claim unemployment benefit at the same time and they are also a victim of those disreputable employers who encourage it.
Claiming of sickness and disability benefits when no longer sick. I think we can all agree that when people are too sick to work, or are disabled in some way, they need a helping hand to make ends meet. It isn’t their fault they became sick (well actually it may be, but I’m not going to go on a rant about smoking, drinking or unhealthy diets) and as members of a caring society we feel we should help them out. This is reflected in our welfare system. I have no issue with that. But what happens when people get better again? The honest ones report their improvement, stop claiming sickness
related benefits and go back to work. The dishonest ones, however, just continue claiming. How many people actually do this it’s difficult to assess, after all they’re hardly likely to admit to it, but the number of prosecutions for the people who get caught is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s usually at least one report a prosecution each week in the newspapers. But it’s a victimless crime, isn’t it? Only if you decide the tax payer can’t be classed as a victim, because it’s the tax payer who is footing the bill for this crime.
Claiming of single living benefits when co-habiting. Many single parents and other people living alone are entitled to benefits to help them make ends meet. Housing benefits are most obvious, but there are other allowances. If, however, they move a partner into the home then their entitlement to those benefits is reduced or even removed. So some people (how many?) don’t bother to mention that they’re no longer living alone and continue to claim the benefits. Well it’s only a few quid, isn’t it? Actually, no, it isn’t just a few quid. This is quite a prevalent crime and costs the government, ie the tax payer, £ millions every year. Well, the government can afford it, can’t they? I refer you to my earlier comment with
regard to how the welfare budget is financed. When you got your P60 this year did you gasp when you saw how much tax you had paid? Feeling like a victim yet?
The excuse normally given for the above two “victimless” crimes is that the person committing them is “only getting back
what I put in.” It’s a totally flawed argument. Welfare makes up about 30% of total government spending, the rest goes on the NHS, education, defence, roads et al. So the amount stolen is always disproportionate to the amount contributed. But that misses the central issue. The welfare system isn’t some sort of government operated piggy bank. You can’t just give it a shake and get money out just because you have put money in. It exists because society as a whole has decided that some people need a helping hand. It exists to help those who are unable, either permanently or temporarily, to help themselves. It doesn’t exist to support those who could help themselves but who choose not to.
Am I at the level of “victimless” crime that you are comfortable with yet? No? OK, let’s try another one.
Music, video and book piracy. Hang on a minute, you’ve already done that one. Guilty as charged, but I didn’t make this particular point earlier. If the investors in music, film and publishing companies can’t make a decent profit then they won’t invest. If they don’t invest then there is no music, video or publishing industry. That means that the people employed in those industries lose their jobs. Again I’m not worried about the movie stars, the pop stars and the best-selling novelists, and I’m certainly not worried about the shareholders and investors. I’m worried about all the other people who are employed in the relevant industries. The carpenters, the painters, the electricians, the catering staff and drivers, the security guards and the animal handlers. Who else? Oh yes, the backing singers and session musicians, the cleaner at the recrding studio, the people who work in the CD manufacturing factories, the printers and binders, the staff who work at Virgin Records or at the cinema or at the Amazon warehouse.
Literally hundreds of thousands of people earn their livings because we like to be entertained and they depend on us buying certain entertainment products. I’m not for a moment suggesting that these industries are in danger of collapse because I, or you, make an illegal copy of a CD or DVD, or because you are given an illegal copy, but it has an inevitable
and measureable impact. How many jobs are lost to these industries because the investors are concerned that piracy will affect their bottom line profit and they therefore decide to take their money elsewhere? Tens? Hundreds? Thousands?
Millions? Now go and find an unemployed scenery painter and tell him or her that they’re not a victim of crime. Oh, and all those people pay tax. Their unemployment reduces the tax income that the government receives and, double
whammy, increases the amount of benefits that have to be paid. VAT on sales is lost. We pay more tax because of all that so now, once again, we’re victims as well.
Tax avoidance. That’s the legal use of loopholes in tax laws to avoid paying more tax than you have to. This is mainly practiced by those wealthy enough to be able to pay a good tax accountant to find the loopholes for them, but again
its surprisingly common among those on lower incomes. The most common form is to use the tax allowance of non-taxpayers (spouses, partners, children and other relatives) to avoid paying tax on savings and investments. OK, tax avoidance isn’t a crime, but it has all the effects that tax evasion has, without the stigma being attached. Again, imagine yourself making that choice between eating and heating. Do you care about the legal differences between tax avoidance and tax evasion? How thinly are you prepared to split a hair?
So how much does “victimless” crime cost each and every one of us each year? It’s a difficult question to answer as the estimates vary considerably, but in researching this blog (yes, I actually do research) I came to the conclusion it could add between £1,000 and £2,000 a year to the cost of my shopping, insurance premiums and tax. I can just about afford it (is that a justification?) but imagine the impact that has on those in society who live on the lowest incomes. So, to close
this article, I ask you these two questions:
If someone stole £1000 from your house would you feel like a victim of crime? Or, to put it another way, if someone else’s crimes are costing you a£1000 a year, are you not a victim?
There’s no such thing as a victimless