Nearly a quarter of jobless benefits claimants have a criminal record, study says


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The Independent Online

More than a fifth of out of work benefits claimants have a criminal record according to research published by the Ministry of Justice today.

Some 22 per cent of all the claims - including Jobseeker’s Allowance - were being made by people who had been cautioned or convicted for an offence in the previous 12 years.

The “experimental” study of 4.3 million offenders in England and Wales, those who were matched to at least one benefit or employment record, shows 41 per cent were claiming benefits one month before they were convicted, cautioned or released from prison.

More than half of offenders – 54 per cent - were claiming out-of-work benefits one month after their release from jail, a figure decreasing to 42 per cent two years after.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is hoping reforms aimed with setting up a “through the prison gate” resettlement service to provide continuous support from custody into the community will soon be established to complement the Work Programme, the Government's welfare-to-work programme introduced in 2011.

A prison spell appears to have a greater short-term impact on the employment rate for adult offenders, which falls from 21 per cent one month before sentence to 17 per cent at release and 19 per cent one month after release, the figures show. However, one year after release employment rates for adult prison leavers have recovered to 24 per cent, the same level as one year before sentence.

Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said: “Our crucial reforms to rehabilitation will sit hand in glove with the Work Programme. We are committed to delivering long needed changes that will see all offenders released from prison receive targeted support to finally turn themselves around and start contributing to society.”

Andrew Neilson, the director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the statistics “make clear the detrimental impact prison has on future employment and earnings compared to any other sentence from a court”.

He said: “These statistics reinforce the argument that prison should be used sparingly and only when necessary. The costs of prison aren’t simply the exorbitant sums spent on locking people up. There are also the long-term costs to society, including an added burden on the benefits system.”

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “To end the dreary cycle of crime, prison should be reserved for the serious and violent offenders who need to be there and the focus should be on effective resettlement and preparing to lead a responsible life on release. Other offenders should be sentenced to unpaid work in the community to pay back for what they have done. Government figures show that these community sentences work better to cut reoffending than a short spell behind bars.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “More than 1,100 prison-leavers have moved into lasting employment through the Work Programme, helping them turn away from a life of crime and contribute to society instead.”