England riots: IDS considers ending looters' benefits

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Media captionIain Duncan Smith: Crackdown on gangs should happen in all areas at the same time

People convicted but not jailed for rioting could be stripped of benefits under plans considered by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

He said he would prefer it that such an approach, if adopted, was carried out by the courts and not the government.

Currently, those jailed lose benefits but other punishments, like community service, do not prompt such a loss.

It comes as a split between Tories and Lib Dems has emerged over plans to evict families of rioters.

A wave of rioting, looting and arson spread from London to parts of the East and West Midlands, Merseyside, Bristol, Manchester and Gloucester last week.

The welfare secretary said he would like to see a system in which benefits were removed as part of the judicial process.

'Take consequences'

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We already accept that if people who are receiving benefits do not, are not prepared to seek work, take the work that's available to them, we take the benefit off them. And if you go to prison we take your benefit off you.

"So what we're looking at is, for criminal charges, should we take the benefit? And the answer is yes."

Mr Duncan Smith said he believed most people would recognise that "the first lesson you learn is that, when you do something willingly and you set out to do it that is criminal, then you must bear the consequences of what you do".

Asked about the welfare secretary's comments, Mr Cameron said: "He has my full support".

Writing in the Observer newspaper, Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes cautioned against "kneejerk solutions" in the wake of the riots and spoke of the importance of striving for a "responsible society" that did not take away "public support for the needy".

His sentiments were echoed by Lib Dem welfare spokeswoman Jenny Willott, who said such moves could make matters worse.

Several London authorities, including Southwark which encompasses Mr Hughes's constituency, have said they will seek to evict from council-owned homes people who are convicted of involvement in rioting.

On Friday, Wandsworth Council served a tenant with an eviction notice after that person's son appeared in court in connection with the Clapham Junction riot.

'Make things worse'

Prime Minister David Cameron and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles both said they thought plans to evict rioters from social housing were a good idea.

On Sunday, following Mr Hughes's comments about "kneejerk solutions" in response to rioting, the Lib Dem welfare spokeswoman told the Observer she was "very worried" about moves to cut benefits.

"One obvious problem would be that if people don't have money they would turn more to acquisitive crime," Ms Willott said.

"I completely understand people's desire to stamp out the problem, but it is important that we do not make things worse."

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