What do you ask the DWP Minister, when you only have an hour with him, shared with five other social enterprises? How do you make the case for Offploy and all the other social enterprises around the table to be supported by the DWP as we strive to support people with criminal convictions, each with their own unique service offering? How do we ensure our “asks” are realistic?
We were invited to accompany UnLtd along with A Fairer Chance, Behind Bras, Cracked It, Liberty Kitchen and Redemption Roasters to meet Will Quince MP, DWP Minister, who was interested to learn from social enterprises about how they support ex-offenders into employment and how we work in partnership with the DWP.
It was pleasing to hear the Minister’s frank and honest assessment of the service available to prison leavers from the DWP;
* There was a recognition that overall the DWP could do better in their support of people with criminal convictions.
* Access to benefits needs to improve for prison leavers.
* The discharge grant of £46 needs to be reviewed. Not a DWP responsibility, but the Minister can put the case forward to his colleagues at the MoJ.
* Friday prison releases do not work. Again not his department, but something he can make the case for around Government.
We were told that funding is being made available to increase the number of Work Coaches operating within the prison estate, with the aim to ensure that Universal Credit claims are completed prior to release and that an advance payment is in a prisoner’s bank account on day one of their release.
We stressed the point to the Minister and his team that only 8% of people convicted of a criminal offence are subject to a custodial sentence and not to lose sight of the fact that the 92% serving their sentence in the community will have an unspent conviction which could prove to be a barrier to employment. The DWP needs to understand how to engage, record this data and support this much larger cohort.
All of the social enterprises around the table provide an invaluable service to people with criminal convictions and each in their own unique way connects with their service users in a way that statutory services struggle to. The meeting was encouraging, the proof of the pudding, however, is in the eating.
If you are wondering what our “asks” were, they were;
1. How can Work Coaches be supported and trained to have the confidence to sensitively ask customers if they have an offending history? How can Work Coaches record this information in order for specialist support to be offered?
2. How can it be made easier for the DWP to commission niche, voluntary sector services that offer the type of specialist support needed?
3. How can the DWP fund or provide specialist support to employers to support them through the process of employing ex-offenders?