Skip to main content

Training For Work: Funding For Ex-Offenders

Volume 570: debated on Thursday 21 March 1996

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

3.18 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I declare an interest as chairman of the Apex Trust which is concerned with the training of offenders.

The Question was as follows:

Why Training and Enterprise Councils do not receive the highest category of weighted funding for the training of ex-offenders within the Training for Work programme, in view of the importance of ex-offenders obtaining employment and so reducing the rate of recidivism.

My Lords, many ex-offenders are able to join training for work immediately on their release from custody. This is because we have relaxed the eligibility requirements for the programme to help them start training quickly.

Training and Enterprise Councils receive higher weighted payments for trainees who are very long-term unemployed, have disabilities, or who have literacy, numeracy and English language training needs. Where ex-offenders are in those categories, they will attract the higher payments.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Does he realise that getting ex-offenders into jobs is not only humane but very sensible, and is the best way to cut down on recidivism. If one can reduce recidivism, one will have tackled many of the worst problems in the prison system. Will the Minister not consider the matter again so that ex-offenders other than those in the categories to which he referred can gain the benefit of the enhanced training grant?

My Lords, obviously we have to use the available resources as we can. We believe that we have roughly the right balance. That is why we give all ex-prisoners basic entitlement to training for work the minute they leave prison without having to wait six months as with other unemployed people.

As regards the other groups, we believe that they are a higher priority and one on which we should target the available resources. Where ex-offenders fall into those groups, they can benefit from the higher payments.

My Lords, I declare an interest as President of NIACRO. Does the Minister realise that Northern Ireland is affected as well as England? Is he aware that there will be fewer voluntarily managed training places, both for ex-offenders and for those at risk of offending, as a result of the cuts imposed by the Government on the ACE programme?

My Lords, obviously the noble Lord would not expect me to answer in detail on the Northern Ireland position in relation to programmes provided by that department. Although in Great Britain as a whole we had to make cuts to training for work, it was in the light of a particularly difficult public expenditure round. We were still able to maintain the same number of opportunities as before. We believe that at a difficult time we must allocate resources in a sensible way. That is why I emphasised the priorities that I mentioned in my original Answer.

My Lords, it seems to me that my noble friend Lady Seear made an entirely socially desirable proposition. Will the Minister indicate what extra expenditure there would be in following her proposal?

My Lords, not without notice. As I said earlier, public expenditure remains difficult and we have to cut our cloth according to whatever resources are available. We allocated the extra resources to the groups that we thought had a higher priority than ex-offenders. However, we see a case for ex-offenders and that is why they have immediate entitlement to training for work the moment they come out of prison, without having to wait six months, as other unemployed people do.

My Lords, the Home Secretary will bring forward proposals which will inevitably increase the prison population, as is widely recognised. Will the Minister give assurances that the funding of training programmes for ex-offenders will be increased proportionately to the increase in spending on the prison system?

My Lords, the noble Lord will accept that that is another Question. However, I can make it quite clear that we have no intention of changing the basic eligibility for training for work. Ex-offenders will be entitled to training for work when they come out of prison.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm some figures on this? Am I right that the training organisations hoping to run pilot courses, including NIACRO, have put in bids to the TECs which last week submitted proposals to the department'? Bids were made for 19,000 training places, of which 8,500 will be funded. Is that the scope of the problem, that only about 40 per cent. of the applications will receive government funding? If so, is that not too extreme a cut?

My Lords, I cannot confirm the noble Lord's figures without notice but I should be more than happy to write to him. As I said at the beginning, we must cut our cloth according the resources available to us. We give basic eligibility to those who come out of prison for training for work, without their having to wait six months. As regards the extra resources available for certain groups, we believe that it is right to target those I mentioned in my original Answer.

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House when ex-offenders on training for work programmes last had their allowances up-rated for inflation?

My Lords, the Minister said that it is important that we use our money sensibly. Will he agree that to keep an ordinary grade offender in prison costs at least £400 a week? To keep a high category offender in prison costs over £1,000 a week. If we can save ex-offenders from going back to prison, is that not economical?

My Lords, it obviously costs a great deal to keep offenders in prison. Training is provided to those offenders while they are in prison and we hope that it is of benefit to them. That is why so much is spent on them. However, as I made clear earlier, we have to cut our cloth according to the resources available. I do not believe that merely increasing money for one particular group would necessarily prevent all the recidivism that the noble Baroness fears. It is right that we should do what we can, and that is why we target the resources on ex-offenders in the way I described. However, there are other groups: the disabled, those with literacy and numeracy problems and those with English language training needs. It is right that they should receive higher priority than ex-offenders.