Financial Capability: Prisoners and Prison Leavers

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the House of Commons on 8th October 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Conservative, East Hampshire

What steps his Department is taking to improve financial capability among (a) prisoners and (b) prison leavers.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

As my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for Education knows, education is often the route out of a challenging background. I pay tribute to all the work that he did in his previous role. We know that we can sustain employment and manage our own budget only if we have financial capability, so we have ensured through the new prison education contracts that personal budgeting skills can be taught. Under the new prison framework, 103 out of 104 prisons currently commission functional mathematics qualifications.

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Conservative, East Hampshire

Building up savings can be truly transformational. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 allowed for prisoners’ earnings to be paid into an account. I encourage my hon. and learned Friend to look at that provision again and enact the regulations, as part of her wider work on meaningful paid work.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

My right hon. Friend is right to identify the fact that leaving prison with savings can be hugely beneficial to an offender’s rehabilitation. Although he is right to point out that the relevant clauses of LASPO have not been commenced, we do enable prisoners to save money under the terms of the Prisoners’ Earnings Act 1996. In addition, all prisoners have access to a prison savings account during their time in custody. We hope that our recent changes in respect of release on temporary licence will enable an even greater number of prisoners to benefit from saving. Since I have been in post, I have been looking actively at how we can ensure that all prisoners have a bank account.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Privileges

Leaving prison with just £48 is not a great start for someone to manage their own finances. Can the Minister say, first of all, whether the Government plan to review that amount and, secondly, what steps are being taken to streamline the application process for universal credit so that it can start from inside the prison ahead of release?

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

As I mentioned, we are increasing the opportunity for people to do work on release on temporary licence, which will increase their ability to earn money while they are in prison, so we are looking at the point that the hon. Lady raises. In relation to universal credit, my predecessor, now the Lord Chancellor, had a number of meetings with his counterpart in the Department for Work and Pensions and offenders are now able to access a DWP work coach prior to release, so they can make an appointment early and then, even on the day of release, complete their claim, because universal credit is critical.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Whatever advice and guidance prisoners get while in prison, it is of little use if they are released at the weekend when support they need is often not available. How many prisoners as a proportion are released at the weekend and what are we doing to reduce that?

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

My hon. Friend makes an important point about releases on Fridays. It is something that I have been looking at, but whether a prisoner is released on Friday, Thursday, Wednesday, Tuesday or Monday, it is important that they have accommodation and support.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

Today’s report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of probation is one of the most shocking independent inspection reports that I have ever read. Nearly two thirds of children are going on to reoffend. Accommodation, health services and support on leaving custody are all highlighted as failing. How much longer are Ministers going to throw good money after bad in providing more prison places, rather than the targeted investment on education and support that we know helps turn children’s lives around?

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

The hon. Lady makes an important point about rehabilitating people in prison. We have reduced the youth estate over the years, so only the most serious offenders are in prison and we do want to ensure that appropriate sentences are handed down. None the less, education in prison, accommodation on release and universal credit are priorities for this Government.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip

I hope the Minister will be interested in learning more about the Street & Arrow initiative run by Scotland’s violence reduction unit, which helps ex-offenders make a livelihood through its street food vans, which in turn are supported by public projects such as the Glasgow Hospital and Dental School and the University of Glasgow’s construction project. This helps them learn new skills and take initiatives to reduce offending and improve their livelihoods. I hope the Minister will be willing to look at projects such as that.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I would be willing to meet the hon. Gentleman and discuss this matter. I must say that, as I have visited a number of prisons since I have been appointed, I have seen some fabulous schemes around the country, and I am very happy to hear about this one.