Speech to the Business in the Community “Recruitment that’s open to all: a reducing re-offending roundtable”

Tuesday 1 April



Thank you Paul for the introduction.

It is a pleasure to be here with you today, and thank you to Business in the Community for the invitation to speak during Responsible Business Week.

I want to pay tribute to Business in the Community and to Mosaic.

Business in the Community, for shaping relations between business and wider society.

Mosaic, for working those from deprived communities, through the use of mentors to inspire young people to realise their potential.

I am proud to be a Mosaic mentor.


Your conference is timely in a number of ways.

Last week, we saw the storm over the ban on sending books to prisoners.

Rightly, in my view, the public, authors, academics and journalists were outraged at such a ludicrous policy.

That a group of people who we know have educational attainment levels that are a national disgrace should have obstacles put in their way to being able to read books is frankly ridiculous.

That’s why I have already committed to reverse the ban.

And review the incentives and earned privileges scheme to make sure there aren’t other hidden obstacles in the way of rehabilitating offenders.


But that’s the kind of uphill battle we face in discussions in this area.

Yes, prison is about punishment.

But it’s also about reform.

To be deprived of your liberty, you must have done something serious or violent, or you’ve been a persistent offender.

Society’s sanction is locking you up – stopping you spending time with your family, preventing you going down the pub with your mates, or making it impossible to just pop to the shops as and when you please.

But we also know that too many of those who go to prison return to a life of crime when they’re released.

The re-offending rates are truly staggering – up to 60% of those leaving prison go on to commit more crimes.

So today’s big challenge is to get a grip with these outrageously high re-offending rates.

Because to do nothing about this mean more victims of crime, more money spent on police, courts, police and probation, and wasted human talent.

That’s why tackling it is a win-win.

Cheaper, fewer victims and more people fulfilling their potential.


But this is no easy task.

The facts about the prison population are truly shocking.

  • A quarter were in care as a child.
  • 3 in 5 truanted from school.
  • 42% were expelled or permanently excluded.
  • Half have no qualifications whatsoever.
  • 13% have never had a job.
  • A quarter suffer from both anxiety or depression.

To list these facts isn’t to excuse criminality.

But it’s to show how prisons really have become a dumping ground for society’s outliers.

Full of the under-educated, those dependent on drugs and alcohol, those with mental health problems and learning difficulties.


We know that stopping someone committing further crimes is helped by three key broad factors

  • A job.
  • A home.
  • And a stable family environment.

The focus of much of the rehabilitation work is on these three.

And rightly so.

Taking employment – the theme of today’s event.

This gives many former offenders a routine they’ve never had – some structure to the day.

It provides confidence and improves self-esteem.

And it generates an income, earned from legitimate means.

That’s why 68% of all prisoners thought getting a job was crucial in preventing them reoffend.

And why the evidence shows those who do get a job are less likely to re-offend.

But the challenge of finding a job when you’re an ex-offender is enormous.

Around a half of all prisoners believe they’ll have a problem finding a job on release from jail

And in 2012-13, just 26% of all prisoners entered employment on release from prison.


But with employment, not only is this group lacking in skills and experience, but they also face the problem of society’s attitude towards ex-offenders.

For instance, research showed that 1 in 5 employers admitted they did exclude or were likely to exclude ex-offenders from the recruitment process.

A survey by Working Links suggested that 75% of employers will reject a candidate because of a criminal conviction, either outright or in favour of another qualified candidate without an unspent conviction.


Yet, while the public want criminals to be straightened out, society’s attitudes seem to put barriers in the way to achieving it.

I’m not for one minute saying that ex-offenders are appropriate for every job.

Of course, there are limits, but we should not be making it more difficult than we need to.

I supported this Government’s modest yet important reforms to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act which extended the maximum sentence that can become spent to four years.

As well as reducing the period before which fines, community orders and short custodial sentences become spent.

This will have an impact on the employment opportunities for many ex-offenders, helping them reintegrate back into society and prevent them drifting back into a life of crime.

While a welcome move, I know there are still concerns about spent offences.


In the current labour market, it’s already a difficult enough task to find work.

But doing so with a criminal record with time inside under your belt, it’s even more challenging.

That’s why the focus of today’s event is so crucial.

And I pay tribute to each and every one of you, and your organisations, dedicated to working in this area.

I’d particularly like to mention Business in the Community themselves

But also Howard League’s U R Boss.

And Working Chance.

Some of you might have caught the package on Radio Five Live last week on the great programmes run by Working Chance.

It included a section with Joanne – a former prisoner, sent insider for supplying heroin.

I listened to the support Working Chance have provided Joanne – helping her with CV writing, interview techniques, and how to broach the difficult subject of telling potential employers about convictions.

And it filled me with confidence that there were organisations out there, dedicated to supporting former offenders get back on the straight and narrow.

I applaud each and every one of you.


And I want to also mention those employers who are public and proud of their work with ex-offenders.

Pret a Manger.


National Grid Transco.


To name but a few.

By being public and proud about the fact they take on ex-offenders, they are showing the way forward for others.

And this is important.

We know there’ve been damaging stories of companies employing former criminals in the media.

Many hold their nerve, some are scared off.

And some companies feel they can’t be public about what they do, but just get on with employing former offenders.

I understand this.

I hope that with more events like this, and more big names prepared to stick their necks out, then this will become less and less of a problem.


And I’ve seen some good practice over the past four years in my current role.

I’ve seen the work Timpsons do inside jails, and how they recruit many ex-prisoners into their shops.

It’s great to hear John Timpson, the company’s chairman say “the scheme has worked better than I ever imagined”


And who can fail to admire the enormous enthusiasm of Dr Mary Harris, the Director of National Grid Transco’s Young Offender programme.

This has helped more than 2,000 offenders and has achieved a stunningly low reoffending rate of below 6% - way below the national average.

I know that Business in the Community recognised the brilliant work National Grid have done in this area with an Award for Excellence.


But we need more employers to be bold and brave.

Those already taking on ex-offenders are the trailblazers.

They’ve shown the benefits of what they do, they’ve provided the leadership for others to follow suit.

And it’s not just good corporate social responsibility and a bit of nice PR here and there, albeit that’s clearly part of the benefit!!

For most companies, it makes business sense.

These are young, enthusiastic and pliable individuals who, given a chance, can flourish and repay that vote of confidence in them.


But I also want to lead by example.

If I have the privilege of becoming Justice Secretary after the next election, I’ll be in charge of a Government department with a £6.5billion budget.

Yet for too long, punishment and reform has been seen as a service the ministry delivers through specific agencies like the Prisons Service and the Probation Service.

Yet, this misses an opportunity to mobilise the full weight of the department behind rehabilitating offenders.

And spend the taxpayers’ money more smartly in a way that will reduce the burden on the department down the line through fewer criminals and fewer victims.

So I’m pleased to announce this afternoon that I will put in place a system that looks favourably on those bidding for contracts with the Ministry of Justice who include in their plans employment opportunities for ex-offenders.

Making the pounds go further by delivering services and rehabilitation former offenders.

I want the Ministry of Justice to set the pace in Westminster.

And then I can use this as moral leverage over other cabinet colleagues to get their departments to do the same.

I’m not for one minute suggesting each and every job is appropriate for an ex-offender – I’m afraid there’s always going to be a limit to what we can do.

But there are always opportunities in transport, catering, facilities management and so on to provide precious employment opportunities.

Only then will I be able to look in the eye Timpsons, Pret a Manger, and National Grid with confidence, knowing that the Ministry of Justice is also doing its bit.


One thing I’m convinced of is that as well as punishing those guilty of crimes, we have to do what we can to reform them too.

It is financial, moral and common sense.

It prevents countless needless victims.

It saves money on the cost of courts, prisons and probation.

It stops the costs to society of crime.

And it puts an end to people wasting their talents on a life of crime.

That’s why I give you an assurance that under Labour rehabilitation and reform will be central to our justice policy.

And to achieve that I look forward to working closely with all of you.




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