Earlier in the year in the chancellor’s Back to work budget, we heard about new measures to encourage those of working age back into employment to plug the workforce shortages in our key industries.
Changes were made to Universal Credit and childcare. Barriers to work for disabled people and the long-term sick were reduced. ‘Returnerships’ were encouraged for the over-50s – all of which were designed to make the economically inactive, active once more.
However, there is another group of economically inactive people we should not forget – those recently released from prison.
Specifically, reformed ex-offenders who really want a second chance and, with the right backing, could provide businesses with the reliable staff they need.
Last week, my department, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), published statistics showing the number of former prisoners working following release has more than doubled from 14 per cent to 30 per cent since April 2021.
Getting prisoners into work as soon as they leave prison is a win-win. Ex-prisoners in steady work are known to be up to nine per cent less likely to commit further crimes. This could help to end the cycle of reoffending and tackle the £18 billion consequence that creates.
It also helps these individuals to build local roots and connections, steering them away from the circumstances that led them to offend in the first place.
You are probably aware of the huge role Timpson has played in offender rehabilitation over the past 20 years, through its prison training academies and schemes for prisoners eligible for Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL). James Timpson, and the Timpson Foundation, must be applauded for their efforts to give these individuals a reason to participate in society once more.
Other employers have done a lot, too, including Halfords and a former employer of mine, Greene King.
What is encouraging is more businesses are now following suit. Household firms such as Co-op and Greggs have joined initiatives such as Employment Advisory Boards, which have been rolled out in 92 prisons to help improve the education and training on offer. This helps offenders learn new skills and access a business network in advance of their release.
Some prisons now have employment hubs, which are like job centres in the community, and provide opportunities for offenders to plan a career on the outside through career advice and help with CV writing.
The prison service has also been running nationwide, month-long recruitment drives focused on getting offenders into sectors that are facing recruitment challenges, including hospitality, construction and manufacturing.
I was very interested to learn about the employment development work under way when I visited our nearest prison, HMP Winchester.
Just last week, the secretary of state at MoJ visited HMP High Down in Surrey to see a workshop operated by the logistics firm DHL, which is equipping prisoners with the skills they need to work in the sector. Some of the offenders involved are now applying those skills in jobs with major construction firms.
If we can get more ex-offenders into stable employment and away from a life of crime, the potential to protect would-be victims of crime is significant.
So if you are a local business and are looking to fill vacancies, I would urge you to consider the ex-offender workforce. They may just have the skills you’re looking for and, with the right support, surprise you with their ambition.