Speech by Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake

The forgotten victims: support for road crash victims, Brake Parliamentary reception supported by Leigh Day & Co solicitors, 4 July 2012

We are all very different, and yet almost all of us will answer the following question the same: what is your worst fear? No matter who you are and how you live your life, the chances are your worst fear will be about the same: suddenly losing someone you love, or seeing someone you love suffering pain and anguish.

It's a prospect that fills us all with horror. It's hard to imagine not just the repercussions, but how life would go on, should we be thrown into the nightmare of a sudden, violent bereavement or serious injury.

Tragically, some people in this room, Brake's courageous volunteers, need not imagine. They have had their worst fears realised.

They have opened the door to a police officer, come to tell them the unbearable news that their loved one will not be coming home today or ever again, because they have been needlessly killed in a road crash. They have gone through the shock, anger, despair, grief and emptiness that follows. They have wondered how they will cope, how they will ever lead a normal life again. And their lives will never be the same.

The bereaved families here today were supported by Brake. They received comfort and understanding in their darkest hours. They turned to us for information and guidance, to help them through bewildering practical issues and procedures, including contact with the criminal justice system.

And we did everything in our power to help them.

They are among thousands of bereaved and seriously injured road crash victims supported by Brake each year. Brake's two primary care services, our national helpline and support packs, are often described as a life-line, a rock, something reliable and understanding, when everything else has been turned upside down.

Bereaved and seriously injured road crash victims have acute and wide-ranging support needs, and we aim to meet these needs directly – through listening, comfort, information and advocacy – and through referral to other specialist services, such as group support and counselling.

But hard as we work to ease the suffering of road crash victims and reach as many as we can, we cannot currently be there for everyone who needs us. ____

Every day in the UK, five more families face the devastation of a loved one being violently killed in a road crash. Another 66 must deal with the pain and trauma of a serious injury, many life-changing and debilitating, such as paralysis and brain damage.

Last week came the terrible news that road deaths and serious injuries have gone up in Britain for the first time in 17 years, meaning even more families experiencing their worst nightmares come true.

All these families suffer terribly as a result of violent, man-made, preventable circumstances, many stemming from law-breaking behaviour. But despite this, they remain in many ways the forgotten victims.

Last year, then Victims' Commissioner Louise Casey recognised that people bereaved through road death suffer similarly to people bereaved through homicide, and have similar support needs, and yet many road death victims fall down the gaps in available support. She said "the Government should make it a high priority for those bereaved by culpable road death to receive a similar ...offer... [to] those bereaved through homicide."

This was an important recognition of the unjust inequality of victim support that we have seen for so long: road death victims have been long neglected in government funding, while millions have been invested in supporting victims of crimes where no one was hurt or killed, many of whom neither want nor need support, according to the Victims Commissioner. The result is a lot of wastage, while some of the most vulnerable and acutely suffering victims are left out in the cold.

If your house is burgled, you will automatically be offered government-funded face-to-face support. If your loved one is killed suddenly in a road crash, you will receive no such offer.

In 2011-12, the government invested just £274,000 in specialist support for road crash victims, split between Brake and some other charities here today. To put this in context, we can make a comparison with the amount invested in support for homicide victims in the same year. It was more than ten times as much - £2.75million - despite there being about three times as many road deaths as homicides.

This £274,000 was actually a big increase in what was previously invested by government, so warmly welcomed and desperately needed – but we remain a long way off being able to offer comprehensive support across the country that road crash victims need and deserve: in particular face-to-face emotional and practical support during the period immediately following the crash.

It remains that the only support automatically offered to all bereaved road crash victims is Brake's packs, and there's no automatic offer of support for serious injury victims at all. So there is no clear pathway for crash victims to take, to access help they need at the outset, and then the right support over the months perhaps years that follow, as appropriate to their needs. Therefore many victims find themselves lost and bewildered, not knowing which way to turn.

But I am pleased to say, we have a rare opportunity now to plug this unacceptable gap at no extra cost to the taxpayer.

On Monday, the Ministry of Justice announced an extra £50million will be invested in supporting victims, with priority given to those most grievously affected, although the priority list I'm afraid to say did not specifically name road crash victims.

A large part of this funding is being generated by an increase in fines for driving offences. We believe it is absolutely appropriate to use revenue from drivers who risk causing devastating crashes, to support people whose lives are torn apart by these events.

This announcement came as part of the Ministry of Justice's response to its consultation, Getting it right for victims and witnesses. We were pleased to see in this the government acknowledging the need to further develop road crash victim support. But we remain concerned a large proportion of crash victims look set to continue being excluded from government funding.

The Ministry of Justice only funds support for victims of crime and The Department for Transport will not fund support for crash victims at all. Because many crashes are not followed by criminal prosecution, either because no crime occurred, or because someone who committed a crime was killed, many crash victims fall down the gaps in government funding criteria.

Brake continues to support these families as best we can through sponsorship and fundraising.

However, we believe all victims of road death and serious injury are entitled to specialist support funded by government.

All bereaved road death victims and most of those very seriously injured come into contact with the criminal justice system because these crashes are followed by police investigation. Many fatal crashes – about 500 a year – result in successful prosecution. But many more may involve criminal behaviour, yet will never be recorded as a crime, where the person who committed the crime is the sole victim.

In cases where no crime's occurred, these families still suffer terribly, as a result of preventable circumstances, and a failure by government for not ensuring our roads and communities are safer.

We believe all bereaved and seriously injured road crash victims should be able to access a clear pathway of specialist, comprehensive support. This should be funded by government, across departments if needed, and automatically offered following a crash, so suffering families know help is there. If we are to get it right for these victims, this support should be available across the country, to all who need it, without discriminating against those who suffer the same but where no crime is recorded.

We're determined to make to this happen, and we look forward to continuing to engage with the government, and to work with you to bring this about.

I urge all the parliamentarians here to pledge your support to this campaign, by having your photo taken and signing an EDM. Other organisations here, please do chat to us about how we can work together to get it right for the forgotten victims.

Thank you in advance for your support.


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