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“We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas.” Pope Francis, Let us Dream, December 2020

Government admits ex-prisoner failings after MPs raise concerns

Ministers have admitted the Government needs to do more to help former prisoners into work amid concerns about the number of ex-offenders sleeping rough.

Labour former frontbencher Seema Malhotra and Catholic Labour MP Karen Buck (pictured) both raised concerns about the support available to prisoners on their release with Ms Buck citing a report by one local authority which she said had found one in three rough sleepers had come directly from prison.

Employment Minister Damian Hinds insisted the Government is doing “good work” on helping prisoners into work but conceded that “we do need to do better”.

Ms Malhotra said during work and pensions questions in the Commons: “Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons and Probation found that not a single prisoner had been helped into employment by the Through the Gate provision which is the Government’s flagship programme for seeing a step change in rehabilitation.

“Did that surprise you and what is your response?”

Mr Hinds replied: “This has been a challenge for successive governments for many years. We do need to do better. There is good work going on.

“Ultimately to improve the situation we need more prisoners to be work ready and we need more employers to be willing to take the plunge and take on a prisoner.

“Having governors control skills provision in prisons will have some beneficial effect on work readiness but we also all need to encourage more employers to step forward.”

Mr Hinds told MPs things like the Ban the Box campaign which urges employers to scrap the criminal record tick box on job application forms could play a role in improving the situation “but of course we need to do more”.

Ms Buck, a member of the work and pensions select committee, said: “Our select committee report found that reoffending costs £15 billion to the public purse and yet fewer than one in four ex-offenders go on to find work.

“Alarmingly, Westminster Council’s report before Christmas on rough sleeping found that one in three of their rough sleepers had come directly from prison.

“Why is it that this department is unable to provide proper transitional support for people leaving prison to make sure they are not on the streets and they are assisted into employment?”

Mr Hinds said it is “absolutely vital” that support is made available to ex-offenders to help them with their finances, employment and housing.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Our reforms to probation mean that all offenders now receive support on release, including those sentenced to less than 12 months.

“This means they get help to make sure they have accommodation and, where appropriate, support to tackle any drug or alcohol issues.

“We are also carrying out a comprehensive review of the Probation Service to improve outcomes for offenders and communities and we are committed to giving prisoners the skills they need in preparation for release – this will help to reduce re-offending and help offenders turn their backs on crime.”