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Access to Employment for Ex-offenders

Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons on 9th March 2020.

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Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee

What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on improving access to employment for ex-offenders.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I work closely with my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor as does the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend Will Quince. The Under-Secretary also works with the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. and learned Friend Lucy Frazer. We have visited HMP Downview to see at first hand the excellent work of our prison work coaches, of which there are 130 based across the country. We have identified prisons that currently do not have a work coach as part of delivering on our manifesto commitment to break the cycle of crime.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee

I am grateful for that progress, but can the Secretary of State tell me when we will be in a position where all prisons will have this provision? Will she also tell me what progress there has been in ensuring that all prisoners are able to claim universal credit before the end of their sentence, because it is well established that access to a job or honest, legitimate benefits is one of the best means of preventing reoffending?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, is working carefully on the pilot scheme that is currently being rolled out in certain Scottish prisons, and we are working with the Prison Service to ensure that universal credit claims are made in a safe way. This includes booking appointments at the jobcentre in advance by using a telephony-based system to avoid the risk of IT crime that could happen as a consequence.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

The Secretary of State will know that many prisoners have conditions that are not seen as a disability upfront. For example, they might be on the autism spectrum or have special educational needs—indeed, they may well not be numerate or literate. As someone comes up for release from prison, could the Department work to identify the real talents that many of these people have and support them in these?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that it is primarily the role of the Ministry of Justice to consider these issues and help people to prepare for release. We are keen to have a work coach in every prison so that when people do leave they can get back into the world of work as quickly as possible. This issue is very much front and centre, and the Prime Minister has set up a specific taskforce, which he chairs, to ensure that we try to crack this cycle of crime, especially when people leave prison.