In just a couple of days, the e-petition "convicted London rioters should loose [sic] all benefits" has reached the 100,000 signatures required to be considered for a Commons debate.
The e-petition submitted by Stephen Mains adds: “No taxpayer should have to contribute to those who have destroyed property, stolen from their community and shown a disregard for the country that provides for them.”
This position won guarded support from several MPs in today's recalled Parliament, while some councils are considering whether they have sufficient powers to evict tenants who have - or their children - committed offences in the riots.
I’m not a pushover swallowing every social deprivation sob story as an excuse for unacceptable behaviour. My post yesterday (see below) praised the uncompromising article by Sir Max Hastings in the Daily Mail attacking the “years of liberal dogma” that have “spawned a generation of…brutalised youngsters.”
But the reasoning behind the e-petition is weak even before considering that retrospective criminal legislation is prohibited by Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which the UK is signed up to.
Parliament is sovereign, however, and can do as it pleases but there would be a stink if it tried to flout international disapproval of retrospectivity.
It is probably better and certainly cheaper to keep families, however dysfunctional, together than break them up, as would result from axing benefits.
Young children will not be left to starve, because their parents or older siblings had been caught looting. They would have to be taken into care or fostered.
Similarly council evictions would pass problem families into the jurisdictions of different local authorities, who have a duty of care towards children.
In any case blanket withdrawal of benefits from convicted rioters would treat someone who stole a pair of trainers found abandoned by a looter in the street, as harshly as an arsonist who put lives in jeopardy.
In any case benefits are not so generous to allow their recipients to live a life of luxury; but they may just be enough to dissuade them from petty crime. Cut off the cash and more thieving would result.
None of this means I find handing out benefits to those ready to spit in the face of civilised society anything less than horrendous.
But rather I recognise there are no quick fixes. We need more considered thinking and less knee-jerk reactions to how to rescue what threatens to be a lost generation..