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Offenders: Housing and Benefits

Volume 642: debated on Tuesday 5 June 2018

3. What steps his Department is taking to help offenders access (a) housing and (b) benefits on release from prison. (905579)

A home provides a released offender with a stable platform and increases their chances of finding a job, accessing health services and tuning their lives around. The Government aim to eliminate rough sleeping by 2027. As part of this commitment, my Department will work with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to pilot initiatives, helping those with a history of offending to access and sustain suitable accommodation. We are also working closely with the Department for Work and Pensions to explore ways of enhancing the current benefit claim system.

I thank the Minister for his response, but I recently supported a constituent who, after six months in prison, had successfully kicked his drugs habit. After being released from prison with no housing or benefits in place, he had to rely on former associates for support. He has now returned to drugs and his chaotic lifestyle—the one he wanted to escape. Does the Minister believe that lack of supervision and support for offenders leaving prison is likely to increase or decrease reoffending?

We must work across government to ensure that those circumstances do not happen. It is right that we engage with local authorities, the MHCLG and the DWP to ensure that the support is there, and we also need to make sure that the probation service is working as it should to provide support for those offenders.

Some local authorities claim that prisoners sent away from their home area have no local connection when they need to find housing. Will the Secretary of State have a word with the Secretary of State for Communities to make sure there is no discrimination among local authorities against ex-offenders; they just need to be treated fairly, the same as everyone else?

My hon. Friend makes a good point and we discuss this issue with the MHCLG. We are also working with the Local Government Association in advance of its October commencement of the duty to refer under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 to improve partnership working between prisons, probation providers and local authorities.

Release from prison is particularly difficult for women, and I have raised this issue with the Prisons Minister, the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), in Westminster Hall. Will the Secretary of State set out what he will do to support women up for release, not just in respect of when they are released from prison but also in keeping the family link, which is extremely important?

That is an important point, and we will publish our women offenders strategy in the near future. We must address reoffending by ensuring that when people are released they are settled in the community as successfully as possible.

Prisoners who build their own houses and then rent them at an affordable rent are much less likely to reoffend. Will the Secretary of State meet me and members of the Right to Build Task Force to discuss how this excellent initiative can be spread more widely?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on managing to raise the issue of right to build in as many forums as possible, and I would be delighted to meet him to discuss the opportunities here.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the number of ex-offenders ending up homeless has increased significantly in recent years, and will he accept that his Department’s policy objectives for reducing reoffending and helping rehabilitation will go nowhere unless this issue is tackled?

I accept that if we want to reduce reoffending and to rehabilitate, we have to ensure that we address the issue of housing. I absolutely accept that, which is why I am determined to work with local authorities and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to address it.