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MPs call for businesses to be handed tax breaks if they employ former prisoners

Businesses who employ ex-offenders should be rewarded with tax cuts, a committee of MPs has said. The Work and Pensions committee called for a reduction in the National Insurance contributions of companies that actively seek to employ people who have been released from prison, in a bid to cut the £15 billion bill for re-offending each year.

Politicians also demanded the Government extend a civil service scheme which means ex-prisoners do not have to tell employers they have a conviction, to the rest of the public sector.

The plan would exclude jobs where someone with a conviction may not be appropriate to fill the role. The report found that attitudes to employing people who have been in jail are poor, with 50 per cent of businesses admitting they would not give someone who had been in prison a job. It warned that those leaving prison are facing a “cliff edge” drop-off in support offered to help them re-enter normal life and find work and this is adding to the re-offending problem. Many businesses are fearful of hiring ex-offenders due to “long-standing beliefs” about their reliability and the risks they pose to a company’s public image, according to the report. Committee chairman Labour MP Frank Field said: “We have known for decades that finding a home and finding a job are absolutely central to preventing re-offending, which costs the criminal justice system alone £15 billion a year. “That is without even beginning to factor in the costs of benefits, healthcare and the human cost of people struggling to reintegrate into society and going back to a life a crime. “Former offenders who have served their sentence and want to change their lives deserve a second chance. Prisons, the Government and employers all have a responsibility, and an interest, to help them take it.” As well as the National Insurance proposals, the MPs recommended that practical guidance be developed to help employers recruit ex-offenders. This should include information on spent and unspent convictions and “challenge misconceptions”. 

The committee welcomed moves to remove the criminal record disclosure section on initial job applications for the majority of civil service roles. It recommended that the Government extend “ban the box” to all public bodies, with some exclusions. Ministers were also urged to consider making banning the box a statutory requirement for all employers. The report also recommended that, for prisoners who cannot work, claims for Employment and Support Allowance be made in jail and paid on day one of release, to stop them falling back into criminal activity. Justice Secretary Liz Truss has said re-offending rates are “far too high” while her predecessor Michael Gove last year lamented the failure to reduce them as “horrifying”. Official figures show that in 2014, around 488,000 adult and juvenile offenders were cautioned, received a non-custodial conviction at court or released from custody. Approximately 125,000 of these – or one in four – committed a new offence within a year.

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