There is a huge premium on helping ex-offenders into work for them, their families and their children’s life chances, and for reducing costs to society. Jobcentre Plus now has a dedicated resource of 150 prison work coaches who are helping to support prisoners nationwide.
I am grateful to the Minister for his response. He will know from his own experience, and from the excellent report on supporting offenders by the Work and Pensions Committee, which my own Select Committee would endorse, that getting a job is one of the best means of preventing reoffending. As well as the work that is being done, will he consider what can be done jointly with the Ministry of Justice to ensure there is better collaboration between job centres and community rehabilitation companies so that they are joined up, given that people currently risk the cliff edge to which the report refers?
We work closely with the Ministry of Justice on numerous joint initiatives locally and nationally, and we are supporting the development of the MOJ’s new offender employment strategy, but I recognise that we need to improve opportunities for ex-offenders, so I welcome the continued attention of my hon. Friend and his Committee, as well as the Work and Pensions Committee report, to which we will respond in due course.
Her Majesty’s inspectorates of prisons and probation found that not a single prisoner had been helped into employment by the Through the Gate provision, which is the Government’s flagship programme for achieving a step change in rehabilitation. Did that surprise the Minister, and what is his response?
First of all, my response is that this has been a challenge for successive Governments for many years. We do need to do better, but there is good work going on. Ultimately, to improve the situation, we need more prisoners to be work-ready, and we need more employers to be willing to take the plunge and take on a prisoner. Having governors controlling skills provision in prisons will have a beneficial effect on work-readiness, but we all need to encourage more employers to step forward. Initiatives such as the See Potential programme can play an important part in that, as can Ban the Box and the Employers’ Forum for Reducing Re-offending, but of course we need to do more.
The Minister will be aware that people on the autistic spectrum are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system and that people with autism have great difficulty in finding jobs. Can he reassure me that when he looks at the consultation on the health and disability Green Paper, he will look specifically at people with autism and ex-offenders with autism, as only 16% of people with autism are currently in employment?
My right hon. Friend highlights an important point. I know my hon. Friend the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work will be looking very closely at the issue of people with autism. This also highlights that one of the key determinants for post-release employment is what happened with the individual before they were convicted, and it highlights again the importance of making sure nobody is left behind. In our work, we pay particular attention to all these groups who face particularly difficult barriers in getting into work.
Our Work and Pensions Committee report found that reoffending costs £15 billion to the public purse, yet fewer than one in four ex-offenders goes on to find work. Alarmingly, Westminster Council’s report on rough sleeping that was published before Christmas found that one in three of its rough sleepers had come directly from prison. Why is the Department unable to provide proper transitional support for people leaving prison to make sure that they are not on the streets and that they are assisted into employment?
It is vital that ex-offenders and people on release from prison have help with finances, employment and housing. Among the things we have done to help on housing is to ensure that there are no waiting days in relation to universal credit and to keep the housing element in universal credit open for 26 weeks rather than 13 for certain types of prisoner in order to ensure that we can enhance their support.