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Released Offenders: Employment

Volume 614: debated on Tuesday 6 September 2016

16. What progress her Department is making on ensuring that offenders find employment on release. (906070)

Most offenders arrive in prison with very low levels of educational attainment, very high levels of substance misuse and a very poor employment history. I believe that the purpose of modern prisons is to keep the public safe and to tackle each of those issues, so that prisoners have the foundations to secure and hold down a job on release.

I thank my hon. Friend, but I have recently visited prisoners from my constituency who told me that offenders do not have access immediately on their release to national insurance numbers, bank accounts or unemployment benefits. Will the Minister let me know what steps the Government are taking to improve this situation?

I agree with my hon. Friend that if “through the gate services”, as we call them, are to work and to stop reoffending, national insurance numbers, bank accounts and so forth need to be in place. There is a series of programmes in place to tackle this problem, including an offender banking programme, which opens about 5,000 new bank accounts every year.

The Minister has rightly identified the fact that research shows that employment after custody greatly reduces the chances of reoffending, so what work is his Department doing with the Department for Work and Pensions to make sure that offenders not only find work after they leave prison, but stay in work?

As my hon. Friend has rightly identified, tackling the challenge—and it is a challenge—of getting prisoners work when they leave requires a concerted effort across government and locally across the community. Every prisoner has the opportunity to meet a DWP work coach before release, and the work coach’s role is to guide them towards employment. Work coaches can also ensure that prisoners know their national insurance numbers and get the other services they need to be able to make an appropriate transition into the community.

Many prisoners are already on short-term sentences of under nine months and are often in prison for very short periods. Will the Minister give us some advice on how governors will be judged on placing such prisoners into employment when the challenges are very difficult?

Since being appointed to this job, I have met a number of governors, and most of them tell us that they want to be empowered to match resources to the needs of prisoners in their prisons, working with local employers and the whole community. That is what governors want, but this is not the responsibility of governors alone. If we want prisoners to be able to go out and find work, businesses have a role, the community has a role and we all have a role. If prisoners can leave, get jobs and restart their lives for the better, we all benefit.

More than 60% of young people within the justice system have a communications disability, and more than a third of young offenders have speaking and listening skills at the level expected of an 11-year-old. With these skills being fundamental to the ability to hold down a job, will the Minister update us on what assessment the Government have made of speech and language support needs and of how well those needs are being met?

The hon. Lady is obviously right that many prisoners arrive at prison with huge learning difficulties and disadvantages. That is well documented. We need individual programmes tailored to the needs of the prisoner, and the way to do that, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, is to empower governors to work with probation companies and rehabilitation organisations to deliver those programmes.

I gently say to the Minister that I wrote a little report on this matter in 2008, a copy of which I dare say he will find either on the internet or in the House of Commons Library, if it is of interest to him.