Universal Credit is a flexible benefit that is enabling a pioneering trial of new ways to help former prison inmates find work, which will reduce the chance they will re-offend, says Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd.
Leaving prison should be the start of a new life – one free of crime and as part of society.
Yet too often this isn’t the case. No job, no housing and no money can create a sense of hopelessness that spirals into reoffending.
In fact, the current rate of a prison leaver being reconvicted in Scotland after 12 months is more than one in four.
That’s why the UK Government and I want to do something about it.
Today I am visiting Scotland’s only all-female prison, HMP Cornton Vale, to explain some changes we’re trialling to the way we support offenders in Scotland as they prepare to leave prison.
The women I will meet today are not just statistics, but people who have so much to give to society and to the economy. They’re a Mother, a sister, a partner, a friend, a worker and we need to make the most of their talents.
So I want the transition from life in prison to life back in work to be as seamless as possible.
For starters, prisoners close to release at HMP Cornton Vale and HMP Perth are set to receive enhanced employment support while in prison in a bid to reduce re-offending rates in Scotland.
This means DWP prison work coaches in Scotland will help prisoners get their CVs written, interview preparation done and job hunting underway so they are better able to get a job and hit the ground running when they are released.
We know that those who engage with a work coach while in prison get a Universal Credit payment three times faster so the earlier we get people speaking to Jobcentre staff and getting themselves ready for work, the better.
As part of the pilot, we’re going to make it possible for offenders to begin their benefit claim in advance, so once a prisoner is released they can be able to access a payment at the Jobcentre Plus on the day of their release.
I’m aware that signing someone up to receive benefits won’t solve all their problems. But having some financial reassurance amongst an overwhelming amount of uncertainty will go a long way to landing people safely back into society so they can make a full contribution to everyday life.
And it’s not just financial security. We know housing and employment are absolutely crucial to avoid repeat offending. That’s why our work coaches, alongside prison staff, will also be able to identify accommodation for offenders being released and talk about working options.
This pilot builds on our existing support for people leaving prison, including encouraging employers to recognise the benefits of employing from this pool of talent. We often see that in their search for stability, people who have left prison tend to stay in a job for longer and have lower rates of absenteeism.
As well as highlighting the benefits for business, we have developed advice for employers on recruiting those with criminal records and we champion those organisations offering work opportunities to people coming out the gates by sharing testimonials from businesses who have already hired ex-offenders.
The trials we’re doing are all possible because of the flexible support offered by Universal Credit.
Universal Credit was introduced to create welfare system that provides genuine safety net for those in need, but also a springboard to help people realise their potential.
Over two million people are now successfully receiving the benefit, more than 180,000 of those in Scotland. People are moving into work faster and staying in work for longer than under the old system, and by the time it is fully rolled out we project that around 200,000 more people across the UK will be in work.
Finding work is the best route towards prosperity and we want people to leave prison with a real opportunity to start again.
Which is why I am so pleased we are making these changes to provide money and support for ex-offenders in Scotland – so that finishing a prison sentence can truly be the start of a new life.
This is all part of the advantages that Scotland enjoys as a result of being in the Union. And the man I am backing to be the next Prime Minister, Jeremy Hunt, will ensure the precious Union will never be broken.