The Big Question: How much do prisoners earn, and why was their pay rise blocked?

Why are we asking this now?

Prisoners were due from today to receive their first pay increase for more than decade. That was until Gordon Brown learned of the planned 37.5 per cent rise and vetoed it on the spot.

The amounts of cash involved in the mooted boost in their minimum pay, from £4 to £5.50 a week, are minuscule. But the Prime Minister – sensitive to the political storm over the abolition of the 10p tax rate and anger among public sector workers over their below-inflation pay deals – believed such an increase would send out the wrong message at a time of national belt-tightening.

His "penny-pinching" intervention, however, has provoked fury among penal reformers, who claim it will be counter-productive by deterring inmates from getting the education, skills and work experience that will prepare them for their return to the outside world.

How can prisoners earn money?

Cash, in the form of notes and coins, is banned in the 139 jails in England and Wales for security reasons. Offenders instead earn credits towards an account which they can then use to buy items such as food, toiletries and cigarettes, from the prison canteen.

The prison service offers work to about 24,000 inmates at any one time, just under one-third of the prison population. About 10,000 are employed in workshops producing clothes, woodwork, metalwork and printed items. Four thousand of them work for external contractors in such tasks as laundry and manufacturing headphone ear-pieces for airlines.

About 25,000 attend educational courses, from programmes designed to address offending behaviour and improve literacy to obtaining vocational and academic qualifications.

How much can prisoners earn?

Minimum rates of pay are laid down by the Prison Service, although the actual rates vary according to individual jails and the kind of job they are doing or the course they are taking. Although the minimum rate is £4, the average weekly pay is £9.60.

Other benefits mirror those in the outside world even if the rates are vastly lower. Prisoners are entitled to unemployment pay of £2.50 a week if they want to work but nothing suitable is offered to them. They can claim £2.50 for short-term sickness or £3.25 for long-term sickness or if they are above retirement age.

Their accounts are "held" by the prison and can receive small top-ups from families and friends if they have earned the privilege.

What can prisoners spend theirmoney on?

There's a range of items on sale in prison shops, most of which are supplied by the American conglomerate Aramark. Examples of its prices include £1 for a packet of chocolate digestive biscuits, £2.83 for 12.5g of Golden Virginia tobacco, and £2.23 for a 250g tube of shower gel. For many, the bulk of their "earnings" go on BT phonecards, while others use the money to rent a television. The amount they are allowed to spend depends on their level of privileges. Prisoners on the basic regime are only entitled to £3.50 of spending per week, rising to £14 to those on the standard level and £23 for those on the enhanced level. They can move up the scale in return for good behaviour.

Why were the rates of prisoner payabout to go up?

Although its budget is being squeezed, the prison service decided that it had no alternative but to raise the rates; they had been frozen since 1992, and clearly an increase was long overdue. The proposals would have meant raising minimum weekly pay from £4 to £5.50, unemployment and short-term sickness pay from £2.50 to £4, an increase of 60 per cent, and long-term sickness pay would have gone up from £3.25 to £4.75.

Why did Gordon Brownobject so strongly?

The Prison Service Management Board agreed details of the proposed increase on Monday. It appeared not to have told the Ministry of Justice that the rises were about to be implemented, possibly on the basis that it was an entirely operational matter. Downing Street disagreed when it discovered the proposal and, in further evidence of his propensity for micro-management, Mr Brown personally vetoed it within 24 hours, explaining: "We are now debating a contract with prisoners so they are better behaved... I think any debate about what prisoners receive in pay should be part of that new contract."

The reality is that the Government did not want to have to deal with the damaging headlines that would probably have followed on the eve of today's local elections.

So is life behind bars cushy?

It is, according to Glyn Travis, the assistant general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, who told last week of prostitutes and drugs being smuggled into jails and of inmates even passing up chances to escape because they were enjoying themselves so much. Penal reformers and prison inspectors paint a very different picture of a system stretched to breaking-point, with a record 82,000 offenders crammed into jails.

They warn of more criminals being forced to "double up" in cells designed for one and having less time to exercise because of financial cut-backs. Rising tensions have led to increasing suicide levels and even the threat of riots, they say.

Why should prisoners get a rise?

Juliet Lyon, the director of the Prison Reform Trust, said the "penny-pinching" move betrayed a lack of understanding over the part that prison can play in cutting crime. She said: "The Prime Minister has reduced the opportunity for people to buy a phone card to call home, sort out housing or try to get work." Paul Cavadino, chief executive of the crime reduction charity Nacro, said: "If we want to cut reoffending we should be moving towards better work opportunities for prisoners with more realistic wages."

What happens next?

The issue of pay is being examined by David Hanson, the Prisons Minister, as part of an effort to draw up a new "compact" between jails and their inmates. It is likely to result in a new scale of payments and spending entitlements, linked to their behaviour and ability to stay off drugs. The Government is, meanwhile, promising to expand the range of work opportunities offered to offenders. If they finally win their decade-old pay rise, though, it is certain to be announced at a time of minimum political damage to the Government.

Should prisoners have a pay increase?


* Although they are offenders, they have not forfeited the right to be treated fairly.

* Phone cards are essential for maintaining an inmate's link with the outside world.

* By encouraging prison inmates to work, society benefits because they pick up skills that will rehabilitate them.


* They have been convicted of a serious offence and are lucky to get any money.

* No increase can be justified when law-abiding citizens are getting a below-inflation rise.

* The cash saved could be better used for improving facilities and accommodation in jails.

newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs

The Sistine Chapel is set to be illuminated with thousands of LEDs

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teacher

£36000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: Experienced SEN Teacher n...

Volunteer Mentor for people who have offended

This is an unpaid volunteer role. : Belong: We are looking for volunteers who ...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: Experienced TA's urgently...

Business StudiesTeacher

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Supply Business Studies Teacher...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?