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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

28% released prisoners have benefits removed

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Disappointingly, and somewhat bizarrely, the evaluation was not able to provide information on the core outcome of whether released prisoners were helped to find work by the Work Programme, apparently because the DWP did not require providers to provide separate statistics for this group.

Day one mandation

The DWP has recently published an evaluation of the “day one mandation to the Work Programme” initiative which requires prison leavers claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance to join the Work Programme immediately on release from custody.

The reason why released prisoners are “mandated” to join the Work Programme immediately is because it’s recognised that they have extensive barriers to employment and need greater assistance in finding work. Of course, if they can’t demonstrate that they are actively seeking work, they won’t receive JSA benefit.

The main advantages of the initiative are that prisoners can make an advance JSA claim from up to five weeks pre-release and they can receive specialist, additional support to help them find work.

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The evaluation

This was a substantial evaluation which, in addition to the usual interviews with strategic stakeholders and frontline JSA advisers, included 57 interviews  with prisoners and a telephone survey with over 1,000 prison leaver JSA claimants. The evaluation was done by Inclusion, the Institute for Employment Studies, the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR), the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, and GfK NOP.

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 Did the mandated group receive a different service?

The report describes the experiences of providers, advisers and claimants of the new specific service for released prisoners:

  • Advance JSA claims were seen as beneficial by prisoners and benefit advisers They made the process easier and quicker, as well as helping to prevent financial hardship.
  • The introduction of the mandatory provision did not result in substantial changes to providers’ models. Providers reported lower than expected referral numbers and hence financial constraints to providing dedicated support to released prisoners.
  • There were, however, some examples of  pre-release work (though this was not extensive); some training or increased use of ex-offender specialist advisers and/or subcontractors; and greater provision of in-work support for the group
  • However, the released prisoners surveyed did not report receiving intensive support; indeed less than half reported having a skills assessment (43%) or action plan (49%).

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Does the mandated approach work?

Disappointingly, and somewhat bizarrely, the evaluation was not able to provide information on the core outcome of whether released prisoners were helped to find work by the Work Programme, apparently because the DWP did not require providers to provide separate statistics for this group.

Therefore, it is perhaps fair to remind readers here, that although Work Programme performance has improved considerably, it consistently fails to meet original targets to get “hard to help” (of which released prisoners are clearly one part) groups into work.

The evaluation does however provide information on how many released prisoners lost their benefits because of failure to comply with Work Programme requirements.

Over a quarter of the 1,o13 claimants surveyed (28%) had all or part of their benefit stopped because they failed to do something that their Work Programme provider asked them to do. Respondents who were younger than 25 years were significantly more likely (31%) to have all of their benefit stopped compared to those aged 25+ (19%).

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Conclusion

It seems that the chief, and perhaps for most released prisoners, only advantage to the scheme is the important one of having their benefit organised in advance of their release, preventing considerable hardship and obvious drivers to commit crime.

However, given the high levels of benefit sanctions and the lack of any apparent positive outcomes in finding work, it will be interesting to see how many released prisoners vote with their feet and do not apply for JSA.

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