New Skills Fund to Unlock £500m Per Year Employment Potential of UK Prison Population Supporting Efforts to Rebuild After Covid

Unlocking the skills potential of the UK’s prison population could put £500million a year back into the economy in lowering reoffending rates alone[1], a much-needed boost as we seek to rebuild the economy following Covid, new analysis from the City & Guilds Foundation suggests.

The findings come as City & Guilds, the leading skills development provider, launches an ambitious new Future Skills Commission for Prisons to use jobs and training to help divert prisoners from committing crimes upon release. Currently, around three in 10 of the 75,000 released from sentences every year go on to offend again at an estimated social and economic cost of £18.1bn[2].

Data shows that getting into work soon after release cuts re-offending by a third[3]. And City and Guilds research shows that prisoners who receive formal skills training in prison improve employment prospects on release from 50% to 89%.[4] With 75,000 prisoners released each year, improving skills is key to both keeping ex-offenders out of prison and also enabling them to make a valuable contribution to the community.

Yet as the economy navigates the post-lockdown recession, rising unemployment and a dramatically changing workplace, the barriers to employment are increasing for ex-offenders. To find interventions to these challenges, the Future Skills Commission for Prisons has launched a Big Idea Fund, looking for new ways of delivering skills in prisons – focusing on what offenders and ex-offenders are capable of achieving, providing ongoing training and support, and matching their skills to the jobs market they will enter on release. Work is already underway in awarding grants so that innovative programmes can begin as soon as practical, with access to prisons cautiously opening up across the estates post the pandemic lockdown.

Kirstie Donnelly MBE, Chief Executive of the City & Guilds Group, said: “The role of City & Guilds in helping people build skills and find practical routes into employment, no matter what their circumstances, rings truer than ever. People leaving prisons at this moment in time are exceptionally vulnerable, and it is therefore paramount that the Future Skills Commission for Prisons delivers against its objective of reducing reoffending for good – both limiting the burden of offending on society and developing the people we need, for the world we wake up in tomorrow.”

The Fund is the first major initiative of the City & Guilds Foundation’s new Future Skills Commission for Prisons, which is seeking to transform how meaningful workplace training and not just basic skills courses can be given to offenders inside prisons, and how ex-offenders are not forgotten about afterwards but given continued support into employment.

The first award of £285,000 has been made to Groundwork, to support a land-based employment project geared towards Green Industries so we can ‘Build Back Better’ in the aftermath of lockdown. It will provide a bespoke package of carbon literacy, construction and land management skills and employability working with a range of employers to provide work placements and pathways into employment. The programme has been designed and work will begin in two pilot prisons in the new year, as access to prison estates resumes following the extended coronavirus lockdown.

There is great potential in delivering this project at scale. A similar recent Groundwork project – Groundwork Fencing and Landscaping – delivers commercially secured contracts of fencing, landscaping and maintenance. It uses those contracts to provide six-month waged jobs for ex-offenders to help break the cycle of re-offending. This has employed more than 200 people recently released from custody or completing community orders – including PPO’s and MAPPA cases – with 42% sustaining employment for more than 6 months and 85% completing an accredited qualification.

References:
[1] A City and Guilds skills qualification in prison is valued at £34,000 per year saving to taxpayer by the New Economic Unit database in re-offending and social costs. Assuming 75,000 prisoners are released each year if one fifth (15,000) do not re-offend, the value to the economy is £504m each year. Source: MOJ JDL, 2019 and New Economy Unit.
[2] MOJ Economic and Social Cost of Re-offending 2019.
[3] MOJ JDL 2019.
[4] City and Guilds Group Bursary Programme.