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Give tax breaks to firms for hiring ex-offenders, MPs urge

Businesses should be offered tax incentives for hiring ex-offenders, according to a Commons report.

Ministers were urged to pilot the reduction of National Insurance contributions for firms that "actively" employ former convicts as part of efforts to drive down re-offending rates that cost the taxpayer £15 billion a year.

MPs also called for a widening of the "ban the box" system, under which ex-prisoners looking for careers in the civil service do not have to disclose past convictions when they first submit job applications.

The Work and Pensions Committee outlined the proposals as it warned that the prison and rehabilitation systems are "in desperate need of reform".

Those leaving prison are said to be facing a "cliff edge" drop-off in support offered to help them re-enter normal life and find work.

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.

A survey found that 50% of employers would not consider employing an offender or ex-offender.

The committee said: "Employers need to be encouraged to change their recruitment practices, and given the support to do so."

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 exclusions for roles where it would not be appropriate. Ministers were also urged to consider making banning the box a statutory requirement for all employers.

Elsewhere, the committee:

:: Said early reports on "through the gate" services - which help inmates to prepare for release and to resettle in the community - "paint a disappointing picture";

:: Argued that there is no clear strategy for how different agencies should work together to achieve the common goal of getting ex-offenders into work.

:: Recommended that, for prisoners who cannot work, claims for Employment and Support Allowance be made in jail and paid on day one of release.

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.

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."

A Government spokesman said: "Supporting ex-offenders into meaningful and lasting employment is central to our prison reforms.

"We've helped at least 9,500 former prisoners into long-term employment since 2012, but there's a lot more to do.

"Next year we will publish a prisoner employment strategy and our 'See Potential' campaign is helping to break down barriers by encouraging businesses to recruit ex-offenders."

Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, a charity that works with people with convictions, said: "Today's report shows that current government policy is failing people with convictions. There is no one person in government with responsibly for helping prison leavers into work and no clear strategy for how different agencies should work together to get people with convictions into employment.

"Employers need to be encouraged to change their recruitment practices, and piloting a reduction in National Insurance contributions for those who actively employ people with convictions is a welcome step forward."

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