Skip to main content

Prisons’ Engagement with Employers

Volume 605: debated on Tuesday 26 January 2016

6. What steps his Department is taking to improve prisons’ engagement with employers; and if he will make a statement. (903239)

11. What steps his Department is taking to improve prisons’ engagement with employers; and if he will make a statement. (903244)

13. What steps his Department is taking to improve prisons’ engagement with employers; and if he will make a statement. (903247)

Providing prisoners with vocational skills and employment opportunities is an important factor in preventing reoffending. The Employers Forum for Reducing Reoffending brings together employers who are willing to employ offenders, and we are working with the Department for Work and Pensions to increase the involvement of more businesses. Community rehabilitation companies also have an important role to play in helping ex-offenders find employment.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that encouraging answer. I am sure he would agree with me that it is beholden on as many employers as possible to offer training in prisons, so that when prisoners leave prison they are ready for employment and equipped with the required skills. I invite him to welcome the work that Cleansheet does in our prison estate, particularly in Guys Marsh in my constituency. I have seen it at first hand and it really gets people ready for work.

I thank my hon. Friend very much for his interest in this important area and am delighted to praise the work of Cleansheet and so many other organisations that try to get prisoners into work. A number of companies—Timpson, Halfords, the Clink restaurants, the Census Data Group, Aramark and many others I could mention—are rising to the challenge. We want many more to join them.

Does the Minister agree that providing work—and the right sort of work—is the real key to an effective rehabilitation process for prisoners?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have the hard evidence: if a prisoner leaves prison and goes into work, they are less likely to reoffend. We know that reoffending costs between £9 billion and £13 billion a year and creates many more victims. We can avoid that by getting more prisoners into work.

My hon. Friend will know that access to the skills likely to be required in the working environment is key. I welcome what he said about the employers’ forum, but will he say what more the Government will do to get more employers to recognise the potential of providing those skills and of the opportunity to employ ex-offenders on release?

As a London Member, my hon. Friend may have noted that a week or so ago the Mayor of London pointed out that when employers hire ex-offenders, they report above-average commitment and loyalty; the issue is not only an important part of social responsibility, but very good business sense. London is leading the way in this area, with more joined up work between local enterprise partnerships getting extra skills funding into prisons. I want to see what is happening in London spread across the whole of England and Wales.

In November, I raised the issue of the barrier that insurance premiums pose to employment for ex-offenders. I am pleased to say that the Minister has engaged with the issue. Does he have an update for the House?

I do indeed. The hon. Gentleman is right to pursue this matter. Recently, I have come across the issue of insurers imposing a blanket stipulation that employers should have no ex-offenders on their premises. I am not only the prisons Minister but a former chartered insurer; shortly, I will be having a meeting with the Association of British Insurers to challenge it on that issue and see whether that is really necessary. As a former underwriter myself, I suspect that it is probably not.

This morning, the Minister has talked about employment on release from prisons. Education and skills are crucial to an offender’s chance of making something of themselves and getting a job on release. However, the Minister has admitted, in an answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), that Prison Service anti-riot squads were drafted in on 339 occasions in the year to 9 December 2015—an increase of 52% on the previous year. Does the Minister accept that prison overcrowding, coupled with his Government’s cuts in resources, has led to a prison estate that is not fit for educational purpose?

First, let me warmly congratulate the hon. Lady on her new position; I look forward to debating these important issues with her in the months to come. She is absolutely right to raise the issue of education, which is a crucial part of helping get offenders into work. The Government’s whole prison reform programme is front and centre of part of the answer to try to deal with the issues of violence and disorder that she has identified: more purposeful work, better education, better outcomes, better ordered prisons.

19. Hampshire’s community rehabilitation company plays a vital role in connecting prisons and offenders with local employers across the Havant constituency. Will the Minister join me in congratulating it on its work and in encouraging more employers to consider employing ex-offenders, including through job fairs run by Members of this House? (903256)

I certainly will. I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend not only on organising a jobs fair in his constituency—a very practical way in which to help our constituents find work—but on realising that it needs to be equally open to ex-offenders. He is leading the way, and I hope others will follow. I wish him well with his enterprise.

Order. Before I call the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), I remind the House that the Crown Prosecution Service is reconsidering this case and a second inquest is awaited. Right hon. and hon. Members should take account of that in carefully framing their remarks on the matter.