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Almost half of those released from prison in 2008 were still claiming benefits two years later.
The study was commissioned by the government. The official analysis was made possible by a data sharing agreement between the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Work and Pensions.
Ministers have described the figures as ‘truly alarming’. Conservative MP Philip Davies said: ‘Given that so many of these people are criminals, it makes you wonder how many are actually seeking work and available to work. It appears that the taxpayer is paying twice. We are being attacked on the one hand as victims of crime and on the other we seem to be paying for them to go out and commit more crimes.’
The government is considering bringing in specialist work programmes for offenders so that they do not become dependent on state benefits. It could equally be argued, of course, that ex-offenders are not choosing to stay on benefits but rather employers are wary about hiring them. With that in mind, new work programmes will also provide incentives for employers to hire those with a criminal record.
Minister for employment Chris Grayling said: ‘This is the first time any government has done detailed analysis of the link between offending and the welfare state, and it paints a truly alarming picture. This just underlined why we have said that Britain needs a rehabilitation revolution, and particularly to help former offenders into sustained employment.’
The current climate is also a factor as unemployment is increasing generally. A separate study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has revealed that job hunters face the toughest market in two decades. The number of people in work is predicted to fall by 120,000 in 2012, and peak in mid-2013.
The analysis comes several months after it was announced that unemployed offenders would have to work unpaid for at least 28 hours over four days, with a fifth day spent looking for a job, if they are sentenced to ‘Community Payback’. Prisons and probation minister Crispin Blunt said: ‘If you are unemployed and on Community Payback, you shouldn’t be sitting idle at home watching daytime television or hanging about with your friends on a street corner. You should be out paying back to your community through hard, honest work. It is essential we help turn offenders into ex-offenders.’ About 100,000 criminals are sentenced to Community Payback in England and Wales each year. Tasks include manual labour, clearing up litter and removing graffiti.
‘Next Step’, a government agency, advises ex-offenders looking for work. It says: ‘You have to show employers your crimes are in your past and you’re going to be a reliable, trustworthy employee. When you’re released, you could start work on your skills by doing a training course or some volunteering. Training courses and volunteering can build your confidence and give you something positive to talk about to employers.’
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