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Prisoners: Access to Work

Volume 663: debated on Tuesday 9 July 2019

6. What steps the Government are taking to increase opportunities for prisoners to access work before they are released. (911802)

21. What steps the Government are taking to increase opportunities for prisoners to access work before they are released. (911818)

23. What steps the Government are taking to increase opportunities for prisoners to access work before they are released. (911820)

A year ago, our education and employment strategy set out plans to transform the way prisoners develop the skills they need to secure employment on release, and in addition our new release on temporary licence framework aims to increase the number of people these opportunities are available to by allowing more prisoners to access it sooner and for longer.

I pay tribute to companies such as Timpson that are leading the way in employing ex-offenders. Which other companies is my hon. and learned Friend working with on this issue?

I am delighted to say that large companies such as Greene King from the catering and hospitality sector and Wates from the construction sector are now working with the new futures network that was set up last year to bring more employers, large and small, into partnerships with prisons.

Futures Unlocked is a charity in my constituency with a community café supported by Warwickshire police and crime commissioner Philip Seccombe. It gives work experience to people who have just completed a prison term and has just been awarded the Queen’s award for voluntary service. That is a great example of opportunities that can be offered after release, but what can be done beforehand?

I join my hon. Friend in supporting Futures Unlocked and extend my congratulations to it on receiving the Queen’s award, and my hon. Friend is right to talk about what can be done beforehand. It is about building confidence, and that is why the new futures network that I mentioned, which brokers partnerships with employers to provide opportunities before release, will be crucial if we are to extend the benefit of this scheme and reduce reoffending.

There is still some reticence among certain companies to employ ex-offenders. The Minister has highlighted some of the real success stories in the private sector where companies have specifically hired ex-offenders in a very effective way. What is his Department doing to showcase those success stories, to ensure that more companies follow this important goal?

My hon. Friend is right to talk about changing the culture. A number of companies are quite openly employing ex-offenders. Also, the Ban the Box initiative, which is all about encouraging companies to employ people with previous offences and removing the tick-box exercise, is supported within the Government and increasingly in the wider business community. I attended an event with the creative industries only three weeks ago to highlight that important initiative.

But the Minister will know that what prisoners need is not only to have been prepared and had training while they are in prison but to have the full monty when they leave. They need housing, an opportunity to work and the full support of a good probation service, as was said by the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), the Chairman of the Justice Committee. Does the Minister realise, however, that when people who are found not guilty following a miscarriage of justice come out of prison, they get nothing?

The hon. Gentleman refers to miscarriages of justice. The prison system is there to deal with the prisoners in front of it, whatever might have happened with the case or proceedings they were involved with. However, he is absolutely right to talk about the need for housing. I am particularly interested in the £6.4 million initiative from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which is working with Bristol, Leeds and Pentonville prisons to support released prisoners into accommodation. I am sad to say that there is a correlation between the lack of secure accommodation and the return to offending.

Does the Minister acknowledge that this sort of practice has been going on for some years in prisons such as Magilligan Prison in my constituency and that it is replicated in other prisons? Does he agree that the practice should be shared right across the United Kingdom and that it will, we hope, lead to a reduction in reoffending rates?

I am interested to hear the example that the right hon. Gentleman gives in the Northern Irish prison that he represents. The through-the-gate service, which deals with employment, housing and benefit support, is crucial if we are to reduce reoffending, and the Government are investing an extra £22 million a year in prisons in England and Wales. I am working actively with my colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to improve early access to universal credit.