Compensation culture ‘gone mad’

This week, compensation culture is ruining education in the Telegraph. With the story claiming there are ‘as many as’ 10 claims a week being paid about by local authorities, the story is of the usual compensation culture gone mad variety. Generally the injuries (where they are reported) are modest, though many are clearly burns and some eye injuries which the story’s author seeks to trivialise by the cause: radiators (which one might assume if they are inflicting burns are dangerous), and teachers spilling drinks. Sensible readers of the story will quite reasonably, I suspect, take different views on whether all these claims merited compensation, but I’d like to focus on the main thrust of the story which is that claiming on this scale must be ruining education. So allow me a moment to put these claims into some perspective.

  • The 10 claims a week is not supported by the data: it looks like about 1 in 8.
  • This works out at about 3 successful claims a year per local authority.
  • The total cost of these claims is said to be £2.25m in compensation. This works out at 0.007% of the dedicated schools grant. Put another way for every £1,000 spent on education 7 pence is spent in compensation on injured children. I am assuming that one would need to add the legal costs of both sides to this. I’d guess (on a worst case basis) that this takes us to about 20 pence for every £1,000 spent.

Of course the costs of ensuring safety in schools is something which merits debate, but it should be a debate in a proper perspective. If the figures used by the Telegraph are accurate it suggests that schools are generally pretty safe (if the number of claims bear any relation to serious injuries in school) and that compensation claims are not a major problem either in terms of numbers or cost. As I have noted elsewhere claims numbers have not increased (save in road traffic cases). It may not be a compensation culture that has gone mad, but the reflex of journalists and politicians to fictionalise moral panics. That may be a far more insidious lunacy: stoking a fear of something which doesn’t really exist.

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