Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I thank the Government for granting this short debate, and I am grateful to the many organisations, including the Library, which offered briefings on young offenders and their opportunities for employment and training on release. I am concerned about the level of reoffending among young people. Most reoffending on release occurs in the first three months, so questions must be asked about the effectiveness of these prison sentences. Can we as a society find a better way for these young men and women to lead a more fulfilling and productive life?
It is believed that the total cost to the UK economy of offending by young people could be as much as £11 billion a year. This is a bad time to be young, with 22% of young adults not in education, employment or training, and just under 1 million 16 to 24 year-olds unemployed. The abolition of the education maintenance allowance, increased tuition fees, cuts to services and further caps to housing and other benefits are creating a hostile climate for our young people.
For young adult offenders, finding long-term, stable employment is an even greater challenge. Young adults in trouble with the law often have particularly high levels of complex needs and come from deeply disadvantaged backgrounds. Frequently they have few or no educational qualifications and no experience of work. Often they lack positive adult role models and suffer high levels of mental ill health and alcohol and drug misuse. This month Sadiq Khan said that a future priority for a Labour Government would be to give the Justice Minister specific responsibility for rooting out mental health problems in our criminal justice system.
In order to reduce reoffending, we must understand the underlying conditions that affect so many young people before we can find solutions that offer hope. Statistics reveal the stark reality of lives lived against the odds. Of young offenders imprisoned in 2012, two-thirds were unemployed, nine out of 10 had been excluded from school, one-quarter had learning difficulties and half had a reading age below that expected of an 11 year-old.
Once released, the picture does not improve. According to the Barrow Cadbury Trust’s Young Adult Manifesto, published in 2009 and developed by T2A, the Transition to Adulthood Alliance, one in five men between the ages of 15 and 21 leaving prison did not know where they were going to live on release. Many of those will have been in care. Black and minority ethnic young adults experienced even higher levels of homelessness and were less likely to have a family or support system to return to.
Unstable accommodation triggers a vicious cycle, severely hindering former prisoners from finding employment. It is believed that around a quarter of employers would not consider employing a homeless person. The Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning organisation points out that difficulties in finding accommodation on release reduce the opportunities for training, education and employment. It suggested that ex-offenders need to find accommodation and employment or training within three weeks of release or they are likely to reoffend.
At the end of June 2012 there were 7,443 young people aged 18 to 20 in prison in England and Wales. Although there has been a welcome steady decline in the number of young people in custody in the past decade, thanks in part to the work of the Youth Justice Board, there are still far too many. Greater use of restorative justice should be examined. What works best to reduce reoffending? T2A has run three pilot projects in Birmingham, London and West Mercia with 36 young offenders. Funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, they show very positive results, and the Government should take note. T2A argues that the transition to adulthood is happening later in people’s lives than in recent generations. Research has shown that the adult brain is not fully developed until at least the mid-20s, yet these young adults with complex problems often have to negotiate multiple transitions between services and systems when they reach 18. They can easily fall between the gaps and lose the support that might have helped them make a smooth transition to adulthood.
Young adults aged between 16 and 24 are the group most likely to commit a criminal offence, but with the right intervention and support they are also the group most likely to desist from offending and grow out of crime. Therefore T2A argues that the focus for public expenditure should be on encouraging desistance by concentrating on the factors which are known to reduce crime; namely, employment, housing and health. The pilots gave the young people individual support, resulting in a reduction in the six-month reconviction rate to 9%, compared with the national one-year reconviction rate for 18 to 20 year-olds of 46%. Those participating in the pilots experienced a trebling in employment and were more positive about apprenticeships and courses with a vocational and training element, rather than purely educational courses. The London pilot was particularly effective in finding its clients sustainable apprenticeships. However, accommodation remained a problem. The majority of those who were homeless to begin with did not move into stable accommodation.
The need for assistance with accommodation on release is confirmed in numerous reports. An HM Inspectorate of Prisons report on looked-after children found that a significant number of children and young people had not obtained early release because they had nowhere safe to be released to. HMIP also reported that one-quarter of boys and more than half of girls had been in the care of social services before entering custody.
I am very concerned by the Government’s proposals to deny young people aged under 25 housing benefit. It will mean that many young offenders who do not have families to return to, and who desperately need to find a job or training to help them desist from returning to crime, will be without any kind of home from which to go out and find work, training or education.
In attempting to find solutions to the problem of young people reoffending, the Howard League for Penal Reform argues that the current system sets children and young people up to fail. The league strongly argues that young people should spend much less time in isolation in their cells while in prison and must have increased and more purposeful activities during association and at weekends. This would make a real difference in preparing them for release and the possibilities of taking up employment, training or education.
There appears to be general agreement about what needs to be done. The Government’s Green Paper of December 2010, Breaking the Cycle, recognised that custody should be,
“used sparingly as a last resort as it separates young people from their families and communities, can seriously disrupt education, training and development and is an expensive option that does not deliver good outcomes for young people”.
Therefore, will the Government consider taking a number of steps which would not necessarily increase spending but would make outcomes more effective?
First, they could issue guidance to local authorities to link up with crime-reduction partnerships and the new police and crime commissioners to ensure those young people just released have access to appropriate accommodation.
Secondly, will they encourage local authorities to develop wrap-around support for young adults leaving custody, as recommended by the government-appointed panel which published the After the Riots report?
Thirdly, in partnership with voluntary and probation teams, the Government could develop greater use of “through the gate” support. Mentors can provide the role of a significant adult and enable the young person to stick to their tenancy agreement, training programme or supervision. Young people must not be left to sink or swim on release.
Fourthly, the Government should ensure that planning for resettlement should start from the moment a person enters custody, and include the young person and their families. Those who received visits from their family were twice as likely to gain employment and three times more likely to have accommodation on release.
Fifthly, they could incentivise employers to employ ex-offenders. A good example is the National Grid’s young offender programme of apprenticeships for those still serving sentences, which then guarantees jobs on release. This has resulted in reducing the reoffending rate to below 6%, as compared to the national average of 70%, and is estimated to save the UK taxpayer more than £350 million.
Sixthly, the Government could consider some special financial assistance for these young people to help them through FE colleges and access courses.
Finally, they should reconsider the abolition of housing benefit for those aged under 25. Securing appropriate accommodation on release has been shown to be vital for obtaining employment and therefore preventing reoffending. The Government need to support voluntary bodies, local authorities and employers to give these young people a fresh start for their sake and that of society, and to cut crime and save taxpayers’ money in these austere times.
It is incumbent on all in public life to try to solve this problem of young reoffending. There is growing agreement both here and abroad that access to employment and training, education and housing, health services and help with recovering from substance abuse are all part of the package needed to give young people a second chance on release.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Baroness. On behalf of all who will take part in this debate, I thank her for securing this time for this very important issue to be aired and discussed. I also thank her for the way in which she introduced the debate, which was very even-handed and fair, and reflected the fact that this is not a situation that developed in May 2010 but is something that all Governments have been wrestling with for many years, and needs to be approached as such.
There are a number of speakers who I am looking forward to hearing, particularly my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott, who, through her wonderful organisation, Tomorrow’s People, has shown how even the most hard-to-reach young people can be picked up, have a future and a job, and work their way out of the problems they have found themselves in early in life. My own contribution comes through growing up on Tyneside, being involved in a church youth group and meeting lots of young people and seeing the problems that they encountered at that time; then through a long involvement in secondary education, and also having visited many young offender institutions, particularly in the north-east of England.
I want to put down one marker before moving on to some of the suggestions and analysis. There is nothing intrinsically different about the young people who enter the criminal justice system. They could be any child—and anyone’s child—but for the environment in which they spend their formative years and the choices that they make. I have no doubt that had a young offender had the good fortune to be born into a home where they were loved and affirmed by their mother and father, had attended one of our outstanding public schools, where expectations of life success were set at a very high level and where they mixed with similarly motivated and secure students, their life choices would have been different, their peer group very different and the outcomes profoundly different. In short, for better or worse, we are all the products of our environment but also of the personal choices that we make in responding to the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
We live in a very unforgiving world. That may seem like a strange thing to say at a time when we are supposed to all be very liberal, but in many ways it is a very dismissive world and culture, in which people are written off, whether they are young people or people in senior positions in public life or sport. It is far too easy for people to be caricatured and written off as problems, particularly in the media. Therefore, it is very important to see these young people as having the same potential and gifts of any young people and to approach the situation in that respect.
This subject is a statistician’s dream. There are statistics everywhere, including those in the excellent briefing pack prepared for this debate by the House of Lords Library. The noble Baroness has highlighted some of those statistics. If she will forgive me, I will repeat one or two because they so clearly point out where the problem lies.
Reference has been made to the fact that 54% of males and 71% of females have no qualifications, which reflects the fact that these young people do not just arrive in the criminal justice system. They arrive there having been excluded from school, having been sent to pupil referral units and having probably been in local authority care at some stage. It is difficult enough to get a job these days when you have a degree. When you have no qualifications and a criminal record, it is challenging to make your way into the jobs market. Again, that is where the work of Tomorrow’s People is so utterly inspirational for me.
We know that often people have mental health disorders. We know—I think this is a key element—that many are involved in drug or alcohol misuse. It is a common denominator throughout. Sometimes there is a tendency to take a soft approach to this and say that people need simply to control their habits. I have visited, an initiative called the Betel Trust. These Betel places say to young offenders who have come out, “What we will do is have a contract. We will offer you a bed, we will give you a job but there is absolutely no alcohol or drugs. It is zero tolerance”. Sometimes that can be a bit harsh because it means that if there is one transgression, the person has to leave the home. However, for those who remain the success rate is quite astonishing, showing drug or alcohol misuse to be a particular cause of offending.
We know that people get drawn into the criminal justice system and therefore it behoves us to do everything we can to keep them out of it. Some 70% highlighted the fact that the major driver for crime was that their peer group consisted of criminals. If you can stop them going into that environment that would seem to be eminently sensible. The costs of this, financially and socially, are dreadful for society but I would argue that they are worse for the young people themselves. The most important thing we can do is to battle for a culture in which we allow people to make a fresh start and tell them that their future is not determined by where they started in life but that their worth is determined by where they finish.
Examples such as the competitors at the Paralympic Games show how people can overcome all manner of difficulties in their early life to achieve incredible success. They are the kind of inspirations and role models that we need. We do not need self-pity. We need to inspire these young people to realise their full potential and full worth.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on securing this important debate. I agree very much with what she said. I want to speak in more systems terms from my experience in designing Labour’s reforms of the youth justice system after 1997 and my six years as a director of social services in Kent, helping youth people in care and young offenders.
It is a sad fact that so many young people who have been in care end up in our prisons, often from a young age. Many of these young people have been failed by society and the state, in whose care they have been. Their educational attainments are often modest, with literacy and numeracy skills among the lowest in our society. Too many have addiction and mental health problems inadequately addressed by public services. They have too often experienced a pattern of being let down by adults, rejected by their families and not helped to cope with family losses. They can too easily drift into offending after homelessness, exclusion from school and a lack of the skills to compete in today’s job market. By the time they end up in custody, they often have complex needs that cannot easily be addressed by any single agency.
Labour’s youth justice reforms tried to address those needs through radical changes to the structures for handling and supporting young people under 18 at both the local and national levels. At the local level, these provided for multi-agency—that is important—youth offending teams with a single budget and easier access by team members to the services of their own agencies. At the national level was a Youth Justice Board for England and Wales, supporting and performance managing youth offending teams, purchasing custodial places and carrying out research, with a budget for driving change, including bidding for money from government departments for new schemes such as preventive measures.
I do not want to claim that everything we at the board did was wonderful. We certainly had many critics—the board still does. We would not engage in a popularity contest and we could be critical of both local and national bodies. But over a decade or so, and with the wonderful work of the YOTs, the board halved the number of young people committing their first offence and cut by a quarter the number of young people locked up. This record produced the support in this House for the Government stopping the abolition of the Youth Justice Board in the Public Bodies Act. All other groups of offenders have seen their prison populations rise over the same period, so maybe there is something in this systemic approach that we need to learn from.
I do not tell this story for vainglorious reasons but to emphasise the merits of targeting a specific group of offenders and tailoring a set of services and approaches to that group’s very specific circumstances and needs. You also have to put in place local and national mechanisms, processes and organisations, properly funded, that can deliver a complex set of service responses over time. You have to stick with the agenda, irrespective of who is in government. It takes time and effort to change offending behaviour. Short-term programmes and quick fixes do not work. They only let down young offenders and the many splendid staff who try to work with them.
Our failure has been not to apply the same logic to young offenders aged 18 to 21—preferably up to 25—that we applied to the under-18s. That does not mean the same services but the same systemic approach. Older young offenders often have similar needs to the 15-17 year-olds in the reformed youth justice system. They do not just need employment and training but levels of personal support and development to stay away from drugs, stay away from other addictions, stay away from bad company—as the noble Lord, Lord Bates, mentioned—and secure and retain the jobs and training that they need. Above all, they must have access to accommodation. Homelessness is not a basis for reforming young people who are offending.
I do not have time to map out my programme for young offenders over 18 but this Government—or any future Labour Government—need to learn from the experience of the youth justice reforms and develop the same targeted approach to young offenders over 18, dealing with their specific needs, if we are to keep more of them out of prison and help them become productive and participative members of our society. Can the Minister say what will be done specifically to meet the needs of 18-21 year-old young offenders to cut significantly the numbers of them ending up in prison?
My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Healy, for securing a debate on this very important subject. I am very glad to say that I joined forces with the noble Lord, Lord Warner, in rescuing the Youth Justice Board —something of which we should both be jolly proud.
The employment and training of young offenders on release is one of the most important and difficult challenges that they and we face, especially in a recession. A simple jingle goes round the criminal justice world that distils what anyone coming out of prison needs: a roof, a relationship and a job. All three are necessary and interdependent: you cannot have a job without an address; you cannot pay the rent without a job; and it is difficult to sustain a relationship without a place in which to live. Of course, these are also the three things that you are likely to lose when you go to prison.
We have heard many useful statistics already. A couple demonstrate the vulnerability of young offenders and how coping with life after release is particularly hard. A survey by the YJB and HM Inspectorate of Prisons in 2011 showed that 86% had been excluded from school and around half said that they were 14 or younger when they were last in education. Another survey shows that a total of 59% have an IQ of below 79, yet offender behaviour programmes are not generally available to offenders with an IQ below 80.
Speech and language provision is of key importance. These young people often lack essential communication skills necessary for employment, but it is still not routinely available as it should surely be. In 2010, HM Inspectorate found that too many young-adult prison establishments had high levels of unemployment and poor-quality work placements for prisoners, which did not provide the vocational qualifications that they needed. This was despite the required individual learning plans, internal assessments and National Careers Service advice. The result was that 70.6% of those first-time young offenders will go on to reoffend.
We know that the Government through NOMS are now developing a specific strategy for 18 to 24 year-olds and I look forward to hearing more from the Minister about this. It is widely recognised that there is a need for a distinct and radically different approach to young adults in the criminal justice system if things are to improve. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, also referred to this. The Youth Justice Board has developed a new youth-to-adult transitions framework that takes into account the immaturity of this group, who still need a great deal of support because they are not actual adults. Working in three areas of the country with this group since 2009—some in prison and some on community orders—the organisation T2A, which has already been referred to, has tripled its numbers in employment. Its numbers not in training, education, or employment—the NEETs—have halved. This success is because it tailors its interventions specifically to the needs of individual young adults.
The St Giles Trust similarly tailors support in its Through the Gates work, where continuity from prison to the outside world is absolutely vital. It finds housing, education, training and employment for up to 70% of its clients. All this shows what is possible. We must ensure that these appropriately delivered initiatives are widely developed for this group of offenders.
A project funded by Rethinking Crime and Punishment during five years of work, which I chaired, involved bringing local businessmen into prisons in London and Reading. Like most people they had never been near a prison before. Not only were they fascinated by what they found, but interested in employing the young men whom they met. As the noble Lord, Lord Bates, said, they were the very young men from whom they drew their staff out in the community. Our recommendation was that a dedicated business sector co-ordinator should be employed in every prison to maintain informed links with local businesses, which would know and understand local business needs and be the link between prison and this part of the community. I urge the Minister to consider this now.
Finally, brilliant work is being done in a few private sector firms. The National Grid young offender programme, which has already been referred to, has been employing young offenders since 2001. A couple of years ago I went to a reception, at which the noble Lord, Lord Jones, was present and spoke most eloquently, and saw the amazing commitment, enthusiasm and belief in this area of work, which shows what is possible. Dr Mary Harris, the programme director, is a great advocate of offender employment to other businesses and to Ministers. It has now supported 2,000 offenders from 22 prisons, and secured the partnership of over 80 businesses from a wide variety of employment sectors since the beginning.
Another example is Timpson, the shoe empire, which, having started eight years ago with one young offender from Thorn Cross, who is still with them, has now set up several training workshops for offenders with prison industries at HMP Liverpool, HMP Wandsworth and HMP Forest Bank. They train 12 to 14 prisoners at a time with a guaranteed trial period at Timpson, and 75% are still there after six months. With shops all over the country, they can be flexible about where they work, which is brilliant, and Timpson has even started to recruit ex-offenders for other businesses. James Timpson, the chairman, says:
“It’s seen as something that’s good for the business, but also good for society”,
and he is right. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Healy of Primrose Hill, on introducing this topic and giving us the opportunity for a measured, though highly passionate, debate.
I want to draw attention to two ostensibly very different projects that achieve remarkable results with young offenders. It is important to note that there is a range of models that work and can thrive and produce long-term success with young offenders if they are supported with a commitment to the long term, as has already been mentioned, and are not seen as either one-offs or short-term fixes. It is also important to have results that can be independently assessed and defended against tabloid accusations of going soft on offenders. When I talk of remarkable results and successes, I am referring to examples of hard evidence of exceptionally low reoffending rates when compared to the norm.
Recent research undertaken with young offenders across several institutions found that 44% of the young men surveyed thought that getting a job was the factor most likely to stop them reoffending. For women, finding a job could potentially, they thought, stop 52% reoffending. Young men who were in custody for the first time were more likely to say they wanted to stop offending than those who had been in custody before. That is a worrying trend given the average reoffending rate of around 70%. The same research found that just under half the young men surveyed anticipated a problem finding a job once they were released, but 72% of the women interviewed foresaw problems finding work.
Many noble Lords have already spoken of the National Grid’s young offender programme and I shall add a few more points that I think are important in the context of this debate. I declare an interest as a freeman of the Tallow Chandlers livery company, which supports the programme through an award scheme. The National Grid programme has been produced through testing, piloting, being cautious and taking risks. That is important to note. The long-term nature of the programme means that it can work with offenders while they are still in prison, towards the end of their sentences, providing training and, crucially, employment. That promise of a job is a real incentive.
First and foremost, the participants learn skills. Yes, they learn employment skills, but they also learn self-discipline and how to deal with authority figures, which for many of them will have been a problem in the past. They gain self-confidence and learn how to motivate themselves. They are accepted on to the programme having satisfied the prison governor and the employer that they are safe to be released into work-based training and, crucially, have achieved a minimum literacy standard. As we know, many young people in prison are not able to complete their studies and therefore have very low literacy levels, but there are schemes around to help them as well as schemes targeted at those who do not have those skills. I will come on to one of those schemes shortly. There is a proper recruitment procedure with interviews et cetera in which they are treated like any other applicant for a job. Crucially, they are given mentoring support both before and after they are released from prison. As we have heard from other noble Lords, that means the reoffending rate is exceptionally low—less than 6%.
Noble Lords have also pointed to the economic and social costs of incarcerating huge swathes of young people. The economic costs run into hundreds of thousands of pounds. The social costs include intergenerational antagonisms, neighbourhoods where residents are uncomfortable and fearful, blighted lives and lack of trust. In addition to diminishing the financial and social costs, employers who participate in this scheme report that employees coming through this route are well-motivated, loyal and hard working, with many progressing up the career ladder into supervisory and managerial positions.
The other project I draw to the House’s attention is an arts project, Dance United. I am sure most noble Lords would agree that prevention is better than cure with regard to young people and crime. Dance United works with young people at most risk of being incarcerated. It is not so concerned with issues such as high levels of literacy and so on. Most of the young people it works with have had really negative experiences at school, at home and in their encounters with police and the criminal justice system. Modern dance may seem an unlikely medium through which to achieve really good results with young offenders and potential offenders, but, believe me, experienced practitioners from diverse backgrounds work with some very tough young women and men. They undergo exceptionally rigorous contemporary dance practice. We are not talking about street dance or hip-hop, but high-level, high-quality dance practice to such a standard that some participants have been admitted into our top dance schools and pursue professional careers, although that is not necessarily the aim. As the company says:
“Dance United works with people in difficult circumstances who are often marginalised in society and whose potential is often unrecognised. Contemporary dance training and performance of the highest quality has the power to unlock this potential. Dance United delivers work that is tough, tightly focused and highly disciplined. No hiding places, no short-cuts, no excuses”.
I cannot emphasise enough that this is not a soft option. Often the chaotic lives that these young people have led mean they have little sense even of how to get up in the morning and perform basic hygiene, let alone adhere to a strict physical and mental regime. They learn a lot about trust, teamwork and working with authority figures, which they have not been able to learn before. I had the good fortune to speak to young people, employers, instructors, facilitators, parents and carers connected with both these programmes. I know they feel they have reaped rich rewards in terms of the successes they have had with the young people they engage with.
One further point I want to make in this debate has been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Healy. I refer to the position with regard to black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the youth justice system. The figures seem to continue to rise and this needs to be looked at in much more detail. I hope that we can return to this topic in the next few months. There are no quick fixes here, obviously. Meanwhile, it is necessary to investigate the root causes and strategies for mitigating these terrible statistics.
After the riots of August 2011, we sentenced about 2,000 people. With the current reoffending rates, that puts us into a downward spiral. It is really important to give support to the kinds of projects that I and other noble Lords have referred to. I hope the Minister will help to persuade his colleagues in the department that these are not soft options.
My Lords, the subject of this debate is critical to the young people of our country who find themselves being released from custody. I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Healy, on securing this debate. My heart beats in concert with her on this, because it is a very important issue. I must declare that I am CEO of Tomorrow’s People. I hope that the work we are doing with young people gives me some insight into how we need to support them when leaving custody; and, even more importantly, supporting them before they get there in the first place.
I am conscious of the work done by others in this field. There is the National Grid, Blue Sky and the Prince’s Trust to name but a few. The statistics of National Grid have been well voiced this evening, so I will not go over them. Blue Sky develops social enterprises for people to work in. It operates contracts and, therefore, is trading. Its concept is “not for profit” but it would call itself a “not for loss” organisation. Certainly, it makes sure that it pays its way in providing invaluable support to young people. The Prince’s Trust, which is well known to all of us, helps young people to start their own businesses.
My experience of these young people is that they are clever and talented. They are just waiting for someone to help them realise their talent and—perhaps I am old-fashioned—to love them so that they can blossom. A great deal is being done to help people make an effective transition from custody but, as the founder of the Salvation Army, William Booth, said when his son was waxing lyrical about the wonderful work that the Salvation Army was doing:
“Bramwell, that and better will do”.
We may be doing good things, but there are more and better things that we can do.
In preparation for my contribution, I read the Local Government Association’s paper on the resettlement of offenders, which lists well the key elements that young people need to make an effective transition from custody. I know that the debate today is focused on finding employment and training on release but other critical things need to be in place if young people are to get the best from any development opportunity. Indeed, when we see what they are, we start to appreciate why things do and do not work.
Those important components include accommodation and long-term mentoring. Let us not work with them for just a few moments; we must stick with them for a year or even longer. We should ensure that they have an acceptable attained level in at least literacy, numeracy and general education. They should also be given some personal development and vocational training. At the heart of the key elements is that these young people are prepared for the world of work and that they are given work experience. Much has been said about work experience and how, sometimes, people are abused but it gives an opportunity for young people to go to an employer and show what they are able to do in the working environment. Most importantly, all these things need to be packaged so that they can get and keep a job.
Recently, I have spoken to a number of young people who are sofa surfing. They go from one house to another sleeping on the sofa. From one day to the next, they never know where they are going to stay. If they do not have a sustainable and stable, in every sense, roof over their head, all the training, employment and support that they are given can be lost because they are worrying about other things.
Long-term personalised mentoring and support is not a commodity business. I regret that we cannot scale it up, solve the problem, stack them high and sell them cheap. It will not work. This should be an individualised and one-to-one practice. The young person in front of you and looking for help needs to be the most important person in the world to you on that day.
One thing that I have learnt at Tomorrow’s People is that it is not the time to walk away when someone gets a job and makes a positive step in their journey. We need to stay with them in order to get the sustainability rates that we want. It is hard enough to get a job if you are well educated, come from a loving home and have everything, as has already been said. If we do not prepare these young people well for the world of work and do not spend as much time with the employer as we do with the young person, we will never effect the integration.
For employers to take on these young people is a big risk, on top of their worries about profits and things like that. We have to give them as much support as we can. Let me give one practical example. We were asked by a very large company to recruit, integrate and induct 12 of the most challenging cases in its community into its workforce. The young people were all assigned a job.
One young girl turned up for work on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and everyone was really happy with her. On Friday, she did not show up, so a member of staff drove to her house and knocked on the door. The girl came down in her PJs. She was asked, “Why aren’t you at work?”. She said, “I never went to school on a Friday and no one ever bothered to chase me”. The girl was told to get dressed and get to work. The second week, it happened again, but on the third week she turned up on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The whole thing could have fallen apart for the sake of two car journeys. It is not rocket science, it is not sophistication, it is very practical.
I come to the most difficult part of what I have to say and I hope that the Minister is sitting down and happy. All of this needs money and there is not a lot of that about, is there? I am not making any judgments about that, but I know that there are people, employers and people who care about our society, who are prepared to invest in this area of work through the medium of social impact bonds and social finance. I want the Minister, please, to spend some time seeing whether we can accelerate our social investment activity. Patience is not a virtue I have managed to cultivate and I think that I am going to give up trying, because we need to go faster and the one thing that is holding us up is the commissioning side, from Government. Please do not take that as a judgment: we just need to get better at it.
Young people’s history in this field is well documented and well versed; everyone knows what they have done wrong and I would like us to spend time giving them a destiny and forgetting their history.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Healy for initiating this important debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Bates, said, there is consensus on all Benches; we all want a reduction in crime, a reduction in reoffending, and we want it to go hand in hand with a just system of punishment. This, as all Governments have found, is a very tall order. When Ken Clarke launched his “rehabilitation revolution” in the Breaking the Cycle Green Paper, it was warmly welcomed by reformers. The new Secretary of State uses more punitive rhetoric but still repeats that aim.
I hope that the Minister will tonight give us an idea of the direction of travel for that revolution, because while all sides of your Lordships’ House must and will welcome the reduction in the youth unemployment figures announced today, the background to that revolution is the fact that the long-term youth unemployment figure is still disturbingly high. While 18 to 24 year-olds make up less than 10% of the population, they constitute a third of those on community or suspended sentences and a third of those sentenced to prison every year. As my noble friend Lady Healy said, we all know that those young offenders are more likely to have mental health issues, to have spent some time in care and to have relatively few qualifications.
The Prince’s Trust report Down, But Not Out showed that one in five unemployed young people think that finding a job in the next year is “unachievable” and that three in five describe their inability to find work as “demoralising”. With graduate unemployment running at 20%, it is our responsibility to help those long-term unemployed young people make progress because that is in the social and economic interests of Britain.
We have heard about the third sector programmes which have had excellent success rates and I make no apology for talking again about the work of the National Grid programme. I am sure that Dr Mary Harris’s ears must be burning with the number of times we are about to mention it, but I mention it again because from small things, great success can happen. It started in 1998, training 50 young offenders to become fork-lift truck drivers. In 2002 a second project was established to train young offenders as gas distribution technicians. As has been said, the reoffending rate at that time was 7% and they have managed to bring it down to 6%, when the national rate is 70%.
In 2003, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the Budget that he had asked Sir John Parker, the chairman of National Grid, to see how the programme could be applied nationally. As a result, as we know, that programme is now partnered with 80 leading companies and more than 2,000 offenders have benefited from it. In 2007 a Smith Institute pamphlet was produced that came out of a seminar held in No. 11 Downing Street. Sir John Parker described the programme as win-win—that is, meeting business and society’s needs—and he is absolutely right. Not only that, it is also of direct benefit to the taxpayer—for every 100 young offenders completing that programme, the savings are more than £17 million. That must be better than paying out taxpayers’ money to lock people up. While obviously it is not a universal panacea, it demonstrates that business can help address a difficult social issue while acting in its own interests at the same time. If National Grid and the other leading companies are able to see the business benefit of a progressive attitude to corporate social responsibility, then the Government should take the lead in encouraging other companies to join in.
One of the factors in the success of the National Grid scheme is the transition from prison to work. The training begins before offenders are released, thereby getting them used to going to work and establishing a commitment to that employer. Mentoring and help in finding accommodation are also important parts of the programme. I would like to mention briefly some other proposals from the Prisoners’ Education Trust and the Young Adult Manifesto of the Transition to Adulthood Alliance.
The Prisoners’ Education Trust evidence to the Education Select Committee inquiry on careers guidance suggested that there should be a career guidance package which would have information about training and education during and after release, have local links to the community and be able to signpost people to the right organisations. Young offenders are only too well aware of the difficulties of finding employment with a criminal record. The work of the Learning Matters advocacy project, which is part of the Prisoners’ Education Trust, found that what would make a difference would be more useful subjects, the same courses being available in different jails, more practical and vocational courses, more level 3 courses and more hours of educational courses.
The T2A manifesto calls for young offender institutions to be twinned with local further education colleges and for a national employment initiative to improve the chances of employment by the private, voluntary and public sectors, but the fact is that these are all measures that try to get young offenders not to reoffend through education and employment opportunities. We all share the aim of stopping young people offending in the first place. However, I am worried that with the Government cutting programmes such as Sure Start, youth club provisions, family intervention projects, Youth Inclusion and the Future Jobs Fund, the future does not look rosy. One of my concerns is that by abolishing the education maintenance allowance, the Government took away the incentive for young people at 16 to stay on in full-time education.
I know that the Government have introduced the youth contract but the Work and Pensions Select Committee has said that it alone is not enough,
“to address the current unacceptably high level of youth unemployment”.
I am, of course, aware that it is the responsibility of every individual to remain inside the law. There is no excuse for crime. I know also that getting a job does not always stop people offending and I know that plenty of people who have jobs offend, but all the evidence shows that a job and basic literacy play a crucial part in the rehabilitation process. Against the background of a double-dip recession, the programmes that could help being cut and with growth proving elusive, I would like to hear from the Minister how the Government will take forward the rehabilitation revolution.
My Lords, I start by declaring an interest as a director of Waltz Programmes, a small social enterprise which has worked with young offenders in partnership with the crime reduction charity Nacro, and with funding from the European Social Fund via the Greater London Assembly. Based on this experience, I would like to comment on three rather specific challenges relating to the issues raised in this debate, which I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Healy, on obtaining and introducing so well. I apologise if at this stage of the debate some of what I say may be a little repetitious.
First, what is needed is a seamless process of support, starting while young people are still in custody and continuing all the way into sustained education or employment. We have usually had one of two experiences in working with young offenders. We have worked with groups in custody, who have turned up reliably for every session—they are, after all, in the most literal sense a captive audience—and show great enthusiasm and determination to plan an appropriate path towards work or study and to get into a different peer group on their release. However, once they are released, many of them disappear without trace, despite the best efforts of Nacro’s resettlement brokers and the local youth offending teams to keep track of them and to keep them on track.
Alternatively, we have worked with young offenders who are not in custody. They may have community sentences or be out on licence or with tags. Their average attendance tends to be a depressingly small fraction of the numbers expected, but at least for those who attend regularly support can be offered that ultimately leads them into training or jobs. Lessons to be learnt from this are: support needs to start in custody, where possible; it needs to be on a close one-to-one basis with each individual and it needs to stay close to them all the way through from release to a successful placement.
One of the greatest challenges to this is the difficulty of building up a sufficiently close and trusting relationship in prison for it to continue outside, which in our experience has not been made any easier by the difficulties of agreeing and scheduling in-custody programmes with the Prison Service, particularly when those programmes involve bringing outsiders such as employers in to the prison. I very much support the idea, emphasised by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, for a link person in each prison to help make that happen. That has not always been our experience.
Secondly, the majority of young offenders are very far from being ready to go back into education, let alone being job-ready. More than 80% of under-18s in custody have been excluded from school, 25% have special educational needs, 46% are rated as underachieving, and 21% have difficulties with literacy and numeracy. Young people leaving custody face significant barriers, including experience of social exclusion, low self-confidence and self-esteem, problematic family situations, and previous negative educational experiences. They may need a wide range of intensive, one-to-one, specialist support. This may include housing and benefits support; help with literacy and numeracy; help with English language skills; drug and alcohol treatment, which is very important; mental health and other medical support; help with parenting skills in many cases; gang awareness and avoidance—I am not sure whether that has been mentioned in the debate so far, but certainly in a London context it is a crucial element of the process; help with communication and interview skills; mentoring, which has been mentioned; confidence building; life coaching; and I could go on. Above all they need access to a range of education and employment options so that they have some choice about the direction in which they wish to go.
An additional need, sometimes overlooked, is that of support for employers and training organisations, who may be willing to offer places to young offenders but may need considerable extra help to address the challenges that that employment can present. The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, mentioned the example of the person who did not turn up on Fridays. The idea put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Healy, of some sort of incentive for employers is well worth looking into.
Support programmes such as those run by Nacro are valuable for all those who take part in them, but the number who actually get as far as gaining, let alone keeping, training places or jobs within a specified period is likely to be only a low percentage of the total. That brings me to my third and final point, which is that the Government should be careful not to make it impossible for the sort of organisations that are best at delivering such programmes—often small, specialist, local bodies working in partnership or on a multi-agency basis, as the noble Lord, Lord Warner, mentioned—to be able to afford to do so. I am a believer in outcome-based payments, but not in payments by results alone. To illustrate what I mean, we worked last year on a programme that offered up to £5,700 for each young offender placed into sustained work or training. Of that amount, 20% was for pre-entry support, 28% for actually placing them into work or training, and 52%—over half the total—for supporting them to remain there for at least six months. I see that as a very reasonable balance.
A new funding programme that has recently been launched offers between £4,300 and £4,700 per head in total. That is over £1,000 less, of which only 9% is available pre-entry, about 24% on entry into a job or training place, 36% after staying for six months, and a further 31% after a full year. In other words, two-thirds of the total funding available is only payable after six to 12 months of sustained training or employment. Such a model risks acting as a real disincentive to many organisations that are otherwise capable of delivering effective work and training outcomes for young offenders but find it hard to manage cash flow when payment for much of their efforts comes only after six to 12 months.
Young offenders are among the most difficult to place of the very many young people seeking work or training today. I welcome the Government's commitment to providing appropriate support to help them, and hope that in doing so they will recognise and address the challenges that I have mentioned. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I should start with a confession, which is that 18 months ago I knew precisely nothing about this subject, but that would not have necessarily deterred me from contributing to the debate. In the intervening period, something happened that taught me a lot. I was asked to serve on the Riots Communities and Victims Panel, which the Government appointed to look into the riots of last year. That was an experience that left me profoundly concerned about what happens to the astonishingly high number of young people who end up in Britain’s prisons.
As part of that experience, we went into prisons and talked to a number of young men who had been sent to prison for riot-related offences, and their stories highlighted a lot of the issues that noble Lords have raised. One young man described having applied for hundreds of jobs. He attended 19 interviews and completed two apprenticeships, but had not been able to get a job. If he could not get a job before he went into prison, what were his chances when he came out the other end? Another young man had been employed when he committed the offence, and when I asked, “What are you going to do when you get out?”, said, “I want to go back to my job”. I thought, “You haven’t even begun to appreciate what is going to happen to you when you come out the other end”. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, pointed out, so many young people do not understand the consequences of what will happen when they have served prison sentences.
When the riots panel published our interim report in November last year, we noted that nearly three-quarters of those brought before the courts for riot-related offences were under 25. Most of those in court had a previous conviction and a small group were serious serial offenders. However, as my noble friend Lady Nye noted, young adults are overrepresented in the prison population. They also seem to be more likely to reoffend. In the year ending March 2010, more than 113,000 young people were given what is rather unpleasantly called a formal disposal, of whom a third committed a proven reoffence within a year.
However, what scared me was that the 2009 re-offending figures state that 65% of offenders aged 18 to 20 who are discharged from a custodial sentence of less than 12 months reoffend within a year. Let me say that again: 18 to 20 year-olds come out of prison after a sentence of under 12 months, and two-thirds of them reoffend within a year. What are we doing about that waste of lives, or indeed of public money? What an astonishing figure. What are we going to do to tackle the lives ruined, not just the young people’s lives but those of the victims of the riots? I had the opportunity to meet all kinds of victims whose lives were ruined too. If these young people go out and reoffend, more people’s lives will be ruined. Even if one does not—and I really do—care about those young offenders, as a society we should at least care about the consequences of failing to treat them appropriately.
The riots panel produced a large report, which I hope the Minister has had every opportunity to read, mark and inwardly digest by now, because much of it related to his areas of responsibility: young people, work, the criminal justice system, and a great deal more. Today, I can pull out only a small number, but I want to ask about just a few of the conclusions we reached. Some of the others have been raised by other noble Lords.
A key issue seems to be the transition between the youth and adult justice systems. We heard all kinds of stories about where this goes wrong. However, aside from the general problems of transition, we heard stories of young people either being unable to take courses or that moving them resulted in the loss of all records, which meant that they could not carry on where they had previously left off. That meant that the value of any education or training they received in prison was simply wasted. The panel recommended that a nominated officer be assigned to each young adult whose case is passed between young offending and probation teams to help to manage that.
As my noble friend Lady Healy noted, the provision of proper wraparound support is crucial. We were impressed by many schemes, such as that operated by the Prince’s Trust, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott. Its scheme at HMP Lewes includes meeting at the gates, mentoring as role models, having someone on hand to sort out practicalities, and support about everything from college places to housing and employment. They are all crucial to the support. However, there is only so much a mentor can do if appropriate provision is not readily available.
Given that the Minister who has the pleasure of replying today is the noble Lord, Lord Freud, I decided that I would pick out a few issues related to his empire, rather than more generally, as it might make it easier for him to respond. In March, the Government announced that people claiming jobseeker’s allowance in prison or within 15 weeks of leaving would be fast-tracked on to the Work Programme. This seems to be a marvellous idea. Does that include all young people leaving custody, even those on short sentences? Is the fee still £5,600 for getting an offender into work if they stay there for two years, as was the case when the scheme was announced? I can see the Minister nodding. Is that amount enough? I understand that the highest payments to Work Programme contractors who aim to get people into work who are a long way from the labour market is £13,000. If £13,000 is paid for some categories, why is such a small sum paid to those who are helping young offenders get into work, given how difficult we have heard it is for them to get in there?
What happens if someone does not get a job within two years? The riots panel was very concerned in general about young people being parked on the Work Programme. Because of the nature of the contracting arrangements, there came a certain point when there was no economic benefit to the provider to do anything more with them; if they passed that time, you might as well let them sit there. The panel recommended that that simply should not be allowed to happen.
I very much support the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, about the importance of contracting directly with some of the smaller voluntary or specialist organisations that have the experience to work directly with this client group. I understand why procurement might tempt the Government into awarding contracts only to large prime contractors and letting sub-contracting arrangements go on, but all the evidence shows that that simply is not working for most voluntary organisations. Many voluntary organisations have gone out of business or are simply unable to work in those conditions. Frankly, I would sooner trust the kind of work described by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, and the work I have heard about from the St Giles Trust and many other voluntary organisations, than something sub-contracted, either from a much larger provider or even directly from Jobcentre Plus.
Finally, what kind of career development advice can be provided to young people coming out of prison? I am still haunted by one young man I spoke to. We asked him to describe what happened when he came in. He thought for quite a long time and then said that when he arrived, someone had asked him: “What do you want to do with your life?”. The reason it was so memorable was that no one had ever asked him what he wanted to do with his life, and maybe someone should have. If no one had up to that point, is that not something that whoever the Government ask to work with these young people should have the time and space to do?
I will not go on as time is short. There have been so many wonderful speeches, and I congratulate my noble friend Lady Healy on having provoked a marvellous debate. I hope very much that the Minister will be able to give us the answers that we need.
My Lords, I, too, add my congratulations to my noble friend Lady Healy of Primrose Hill on securing this debate. The contributions of both the noble Baroness and all other Members of your Lordships’ House who have spoken have made this a thoughtful and informative debate.
Young offenders, like other offenders, cost the country money through the damage and disruption they have caused and may cause, in addition to the adverse social consequences of their actions and the impact on their victims. It is in everyone’s interest, not least their own, to try to minimise the likelihood of their reoffending. Not having any money, a job or anywhere to live are three factors that increase the likelihood of reoffending by young offenders leaving prison. Having no money, or hardly any, to buy the basic necessities of life simply encourages action, often in desperation, to obtain money by illegal means or in return for illegal acts. Having no accommodation to go to also increases the likelihood of resuming previous contact with those who would hardly act as a brake in discouraging reoffending and generates a feeling of instability, hopelessness and despair. Having no job, or not being on a worthwhile training programme with a realistic prospect of obtaining a job, means that a significant potential ladder for reaching the goal of turning away from offending and achieving a sense of purpose in life is removed.
Reference has already been made in this debate to reductions in or withdrawal of benefits, both actual and pending, that would adversely affect the already weak financial position of young offenders leaving prison. It would help if the Minister could indicate in his response what effect the Government feel these reductions or withdrawals of benefit will have on the incidence of reoffending by young offenders leaving prison and the basis on which the Government reached whatever may be their conclusions on this specific point.
I hope the Minister will also be able to advise us of what the most recent figures show in respect of the cost of helping a young offender find employment or training, as compared with the savings resulting from an end to reoffending or a reduction in the incidence and level of seriousness of reoffending by that young offender. Money may be in short supply, and helping young offenders in prison and on leaving prison may not be a priority for most of the national media in this country—or perhaps for some politicians. However, it would be helpful to know what the costs and savings figures are on which the Government are presumably basing their approach to deciding how much to spend on training for young offenders in prison, and on training, finding employment and the levels of benefit available for young offenders when they leave prison.
Obviously we can have only one departmental Minister replying to this debate on helping young offenders. However, what does or does not happen to the young offender in prison in respect of skills, training and education has a considerable impact on their position once they leave prison. Once again, it would be helpful if the Minister would talk about the contact and liaison arrangements between the Ministry of Justice and other relevant departments, including his own, to ensure some continuity of training provision and assistance in finding employment for young offenders once they leave prison, and in addressing the problems so many of them face, which were eloquently and forcefully highlighted by many noble Lords.
In a debate on 9 February this year, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that the MoJ and the Department for Work and Pensions were in close contact and trying to work through the issues associated with offenders leaving prison. Have we now got beyond the stage of the DWP and MoJ trying to work through the issues, including ensuring no delay over the payment of relevant benefits? Have the issues now been worked through with agreed solutions and processes? If so, what decisions have been made since February, and what policies and processes implemented, that will contribute to helping young offenders find employment or training on release from prison, and will also address the many and diverse problems that so many have to overcome, which were highlighted by many noble Lords? What is the level of contact between the Department for Work and Pensions, the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Communities and Local Government over assistance to young offenders in finding accommodation on release, since their success or otherwise in finding accommodation is likely to have a major impact on their success or otherwise in finding employment or securing training?
Young offenders who have just left prison are likely to be under some form of supervision for a period of time. Apparently the Government are embarking on significant changes in the role of the probation service and the level of private sector involvement in that field. Has the Department for Work and Pensions had any input into the Government’s thinking on the extent of the future role of the probation service, since that, too, could have an impact on young offenders when they are in prison and when they leave?
As my noble friend Lady Healy of Primrose Hill said, schemes have been in existence for some time, run by different organisations, particularly in the voluntary sector, which show that finding and providing training, and finding employment for young offenders by also addressing the problems faced by so many of them, can have a significant impact on reoffending rates. Outside commercial companies are also used to assist in finding employment or training schemes for young offenders leaving prison. Perhaps the Minister will say something about the success rate of these organisations and the nature of the contracts with them. How is having helped someone find employment or an appropriate training course defined and assessed in the contract? Are payments made at different stages in the process? If so, how are they weighted, and how and by whom is the checking and verification undertaken?
Employment and training for young offenders requires resources and commitment. It also requires a mentality that does not think that young people who have committed offences should receive what are described as tough sentences and not much else. Neither will an approach work that considers it inappropriate for young offenders leaving prison to receive publicly funded assistance in finding employment or training—although the continuing high unemployment rate for young people generally does not help the situation.
Finally, I come back to the question of money and resources. Will the Minister say whether the Government regard money spent on the training and education of young offenders in prison, and on helping them find employment or training on their release, as an overall cost to the public purse or as expenditure that produces an overall saving?
My Lords, I join other Peers in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Healy, for raising this important issue. I also thank all noble Lords for their valuable contributions. Young offenders face multiple barriers in accessing employment, training and jobs on release from prison. If we are to tackle these problems and take effective steps to reduce reoffending, there has to be a co-ordinated response across government departments. Since May 2010, the Government have led positive change on how we tackle the causes of crime to reduce reoffending rates, as a number of noble Lords spelt out. The Government are committed to offering young unemployed people the opportunity to access high quality training relevant to the labour market so that they can gain the skills they need for sustainable employment and enable them to progress in a learning and work environment.
I will do my best to answer as many of the points put to me as possible, but I suspect that I will not get through them all in the limited time available. Before I do so, I will go through some of the steps that DWP is implementing to respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Nye, who looked at the programmes she liked, to try to explain that what we have replaced them with are in many cases doing the job rather better. Since last April, Jobcentre Plus managers and advisers have been given more flexibility to tailor support to claimants and local market needs. To support this, Jobcentre Plus has introduced a suite of measures bringing together communities, the voluntary sector and employers to help people get back to work. That support is complemented by the Get Britain Working measures: the new enterprise allowance supports those looking to start their own business; work clubs help claimants to share skills and experiences; the Work Together programme helps claimants to develop skills through volunteering; work experience is particularly important because it enables young claimants to get a placement with a local business; and finally a range of sector-based work academies which offer pre-employment training and work experience placements.
We added to that in April this year the Youth Contract, providing an additional £1 billion of support for young unemployed people over the next three years. The Youth Contract builds on existing support to provide young people with more intensive adviser support and work experience, as well as providing employers with wage incentives and apprenticeship incentives to encourage them to recruit young people. Within that total, £150 million of new support is directed at the most disengaged 16 and 17 year-olds to help them get into sustained learning, an apprenticeship or a job with training. In addition, we have launched a new innovation fund of £30 million over three years for social investment projects of the kind that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, would, I am sure, have his eye on in terms of providing opportunities. These projects aim to support disadvantaged young people and those at risk of disadvantage, with a particular focus on those aged 14 and over. We have completed the first round of commissioning for the projects and we are now looking at the second round.
Apprenticeships are right at the heart of the Government’s drive to equip people of all ages with the skills that employers need to prosper and compete. We want to make it as simple as possible for employers to take on apprentices, and we want advanced and higher level apprenticeships to become the level to which learners and employers aspire.
I am sure that all noble Lords are aware that last year we introduced the Work Programme, the biggest single payment-by-results programme in this country and possibly anywhere else. In response to the inquiry of the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, we introduced a feature to ensure that all offenders leaving custody are given immediate support through the Work Programme, on the proviso that they claim jobseeker’s allowance. So it is that group. Of the total of 80,000 leaving, 30,000 are in that category. I can also confirm that when we move to universal credit, the effect will be much wider. Not only can prisoners get on to the benefit system in prison, they are then picked up on day one. As the noble Baroness pointed out, that is a wonderful development.
Is that money enough? That is a good question. We will find out. It can be supplemented by the apprenticeship and employment incentives structures, so that is not all the money that is going to those youngsters. The noble Baroness was concerned that there would be parking after a period; it does not work quite like that. If you get a person into a job within two years, they are sustained well beyond the initial two-year period. You are not locked in to that two-year period; you have two years to start them on the process.
I will now try to pick up on as many other questions as I possibly can. There was an enormous number, so I will not cover them all. Where I have not been able to cover them, I will write.
Many of the questions surrounded my noble friend Lady Linklater’s jingle of a roof, a relationship, and a job, and looking at how one achieves that. When we look at the schools agenda, both the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and the noble Baroness, Lady Healy, talked about the Youth Justice Board which supported the establishment of seven resettlement consortia which aim to provide a co-ordinated approach across local authorities for all young people leaving custody, so that they can access the services that they need to help prevent them from re-offending. Each of these consortia engages with the third sector and private providers through national and local organisations, as the noble Lord, Lord Warner, pointed out.
In addition, the Ministry of Justice is now working with the Department for Education to take forward the commitment in the cross-government Ending Gang and Youth Violence report to explore ways to improve education provision for young people in and released from the secure estate.
The result of the review, Making Prisons Work: Skills for Rehabilitation, which came out in May 2011, means that a refreshed curriculum is being introduced in prisons, and there will be a strong focus on providing training and access to apprenticeships to prepare prisoners for employment. We are increasing collaboration between Jobcentre Plus, the National Careers Service, probation, colleges and other training providers to make sure that they are referred to the appropriate training and work opportunities.
The work in the private sector that my noble friend Lady Linklater talked about is based on the Jobcentre Plus provision of about 180 advisers working in prison, providing help and advice to offenders. Clearly, that ties in with early referral to the Work Programme.
With regard to some of the further measures that the Government are taking, the Home Office has committed £18 million of funding for 2012-13 to support the police, local agencies and the voluntary sector to tackle knife, gun and gang-related violence and prevent young people entering a cycle of crime. An Ending Gang and Youth Violence Team is now place, with the support of a virtual network of more than 100 advisers.
Picking up the concern raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Healy, on housing benefit for under-25s—the “roof” in the jingle—I remind her that that is not government policy, as she suggested; it is a topic of debate at this stage and no decisions have yet been made. I should also point out that were such a decision to be made, the issue that was being discussed was around automatic entitlement to housing; it does not necessarily mean that the most vulnerable groups would be excluded from such housing.
My noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott raised the issue of commissioning. Coincidentally, I have been taking a deep interest in that lately and have been meeting some of the financial groups considering it. She has put her finger precisely on the issue: we need a group that organises the structure between government and providers, a commissioning body or bodies to do that and get it to work well.
I must conclude. Punishment of offending behaviour upholds the values of law and order that all civilised society is based on. We know that work is a primary factor in reducing reoffending. The Government are working hard to ensure that young offenders emerge better equipped to become part of law-abiding communities and better able to reintegrate into society and build the skills necessary to have useful and productive lives.
House adjourned at 7.32 pm.