Support for ex-offenders Contents

3Changing employer attitudes

80.The previous chapters have focussed on how to help ex-offenders prepare for work and successfully resettle into the community. The benefits of this, however, will only be fully realised if more employers choose to hire ex-offenders. There are over 10 million nominal criminal records held on the Police National Computer.159 Many individuals with criminal records “routinely suffer difficulties” when trying to gain employment.160 Damian Hinds said:

This is absolutely fundamental. You need to have people leaving prison who are as work-ready as possible but you also need to have employers who are willing to take on ex-offenders.161

81.Revolving Doors, a charity that works with ex-offenders, said that employer concern was “potentially the most significant” challenge ex-offenders faced in finding work.162 Nacro told us this was because employers had:

skewed assumptions particularly around perceived risk to company security and harm prevention as well as a belief that people with criminal records lack personal attributes such as honesty and reliability.163

A 2016 YouGov survey commissioned by DWP found that that 50% of employers would not consider employing an offender or ex-offender.164 The survey also showed that, whilst only 32% had concerns about ex-offenders’ skills and capability, 40% were worried about the public image of their business and 45% were concerned ex-offenders would be unreliable.

Table 1: Factors of concern to employers


% of employers

How to interact with them


Their work skills and capability


They may upset their colleagues


They may damage the public image of the business


They may have health issues that affect their work


They may be unreliable


None of the above


Not sure


Source: YouGov / DWP Survey Results, 2016

82.Prisons report that that just over 26% of prisoners enter employment on release.165 Only 22.6% of black offenders have a ‘positive employment outcome’ on leaving prison.166 We heard that “rumours and myths” discouraged many employers from hiring ex-offenders.167 Nacro told us that some employers mistakenly believe that the terms of their employer liability insurance would be invalidated by employing people with unspent convictions.168 Christopher Stacey said that “insurance is one of those areas that, in practice, it isn’t a problem but there is a real myth that that is a problem for employers.”169 We were told that employers also struggled with the rules around hiring ex-offenders. Nacro said

The statutory framework which governs criminal record disclosure is complex and has created confusion for employers attempting to make sense of what the criminal record disclosure regime means for their individual business and how to lawfully apply its provisions in their recruitment processes. For example, some employers may mistakenly believe that they cannot employ a person until their conviction or caution is spent.170

83.Ex-offenders told us about the impact of being rejected by employers because of a criminal record. One online forum respondent told us

I don’t believe I was given realistic advice about how difficult it would be to get a job when I left prison. When I started to apply for work, I was really shocked at the way that employers discriminate against ex-offenders. I really feel that this should have been made clearer to me.171

Another said “I am still being punished. Because of the toxic atmosphere surrounding people with my type of offence, no employer will touch me”.172 Janice Nix, a rehabilitation engagement worker, told us that she faced employer rejection years after leaving prison, even though she had secured a good job on release (Box 3).

Box 3: Janice’s story

Janice-NixI was released a little while ago and I started to work for the NHS (Woking Community, St Peter’s). I applied for that job while I was away and they knew where I came from. They knew my history and I told them about myself, and they were still happy to employ me on my credibility. I stayed with them for five years and nine months.

I had seen another job obviously for more money (King’s College Hospital). I went forward for it. I had to declare [my criminal record] in my application. I asked them if they wanted me to speak about this during interview, and it was not appropriate so we did not speak about it.

I was employed. I started working, enjoyed my job and got through three weeks in to be told one morning when I went to work, “You’re suspended and the reason why is your criminal record.” I was told by a line manager that my record was not compatible with that of a customer care officer. If the employer had looked at my previous record, I had letters from consultants that had expressed how well I did my job. I was suspended and then eventually sacked because of my criminal record.

What that did was it wrecked me. My father had to send me away because my thinking was, “What, do I go back and live a criminal lifestyle or do I press on?” The story after that is I went into depression. I had to re-evaluate myself and re-evaluate what life is like living legal. I felt that society was not forgiving, even though you try your hardest to show people that you have changed. I certainly know that I tried in every single way to prove to society that I have changed, and I wasn’t forgiven. However, luckily, I started working with an organisation called St Giles Trust and they pushed me forward, and I now work with a rehabilitation company. Now I am happy that I pressed on.

Source: Q69–Q77 and Q93

The benefits to employers

84.We took oral evidence from two employers, Timpson and Virgin Trains, who actively employ ex-offenders into their businesses. They told us that the concerns employers had over hiring ex-offenders were unfounded, and that in reality ex-offenders were often loyal and productive employees.173 Darren Burns said

I do not think there are any real barriers. I personally think that it is a perceived lack of education [ … ] Historically, the majority of employers perceive ex-offenders to be lazy, untrustworthy, problematic and so on. We have found the complete opposite to be true.174

Kathryn Wildman, Lead Recruiter at Virgin Trains, concurred and said “the people we have taken add value to our business.”175 Both Timpson and Virgin Trains have seen very low rates of re-offending for the people on their schemes176 and Timpson said that ex-offender employees were less likely to steal from the company than other colleagues.177

85.Timpson and Virgin Trains told us that giving ex-offenders a second chance was the “right thing to do”.178 Both companies, however, stressed that the main reason for hiring ex-offenders was because it was beneficial to their businesses. Kathryn Wildman said:

There are 65,000 offenders in prison at any one time in the UK, with very few businesses actively recruiting those people. It gives us access to a talent pool that we would not get access to otherwise—people with some great skills and experience who can add value to the business.179

Darren Burns said:

The most important reason we do it is because it is good for business. I am pretty confident that if it was not good for business, we would stop doing it tomorrow. [ … ]By us showing the trust to give them that opportunity, it is paid back in loyalty and highly productive colleagues.180

86.We heard that employing ex-offenders can also help companies tackle skills shortages. Lendlease, a property and infrastructure company, told us that hiring ex-offenders helped them to “address the recruitment challenges the business faces”:181

The construction industry faces a major skills gap. The Construction Industry Training Board’s recent Construction Skills Network forecast suggested an extra 200,000 new jobs will be created over the next five years as the industry expands.182

The Government provided us with an overview of the sectors with the greatest skills gaps, which included manufacturing (173,400), wholesale and retail (242,200), and construction (44,500).183 Whilst these industries faced skills gaps, unemployment was at an 11-year low. The Government said that made it harder, though more important, to get the “more difficult to place” into work.184 In chapter one we made recommendations on training prisoners in order to meet local labour shortages (paragraphs 37 to 43).

87.We applaud those employers who have recognised the benefits of employing and supporting ex-offenders. Until more employers choose to follow suit, ex-offenders remain a largely untapped resource, at a time when many sectors face major skills shortages. We hope that more businesses choose to follow the examples set by Timpson, Virgin Trains and others.

Supporting and incentivising employers

88.Stakeholders suggested a number of ways to encourage more employers to hire ex-offenders, including imposing quotas. Darren Burns suggested that companies who took on apprentices could be compelled to take a proportion of ex-offenders but added “I think it would be a huge mistake to force ex-offenders upon anybody—particularly those [ex-offenders] who are not work-ready and suitable”.185 Kathryn Wildman concurred: “if you are compelled to take ex-offenders, they still need to be right for your business.”186

89.We heard that employers would benefit from guidance on how to hire ex-offenders. Darren Burns said the Government should produce a “myth-busting piece of literature to dispel some of the rumours and myths about ex-offenders and about the problems of employing ex-offenders.”187 Christopher Stacey said that many employers needed “practical support in changing policies and practices.”188 Paul Anders told us there was a gap for

guidance around dealing with criminal records, dealing with disclosure and dealing with risk, both in terms of whatever service they are providing but also in terms of the perceived risk that there may be to them as a business.189

90.Timpson and Virgin Trains told us they produced some resources for other employers. Kathryn Wildman said that Virgin Trains had released a toolkit which “tells the story about how we took our first step in employing ex-offenders”.190 Timpson provides consultancy for businesses that are considering hiring ex-offenders.191 Darren Burns said there needed, however, to be “something standardised, which is produced and given to employers”.192 Kathryn Wildman added that there also needed to be a central link between different stakeholders:

It would be great if the DWP could link or facilitate that contact between businesses, the different charities and the different prisons, and give people some guidance in that first step and in how to make contact.193

91.Another option suggested was to reduce National Insurance contributions, or offer some other form of financial incentive, for employers who take on ex-offenders. Revolving Doors said that this could “influence employer recruitment behaviour” and Darren Burns said it would “be a huge incentive.”194 Christopher Stacey agreed that there was a strong case to look at financial incentives for employers:

People with convictions are the most likely disadvantaged group to be refused work by employers. [ … ] There is not much innovation from that perspective in trying to change the way that employers approach people with convictions. [ … ]We can provide guidance and there can be campaigns done, but on a practical level, we need to look at other ways such as incentives, and a way of piloting those to see if they could be effective.195

Sam Gyimah agreed that financial incentives should be considered and that this had worked for apprenticeships:

The financial incentive point for employers—the National Insurance point—I think is a very powerful one. The case I would make to the Treasury is that if the Prime Minister wants our country to be a country that works for everyone, then certainly looking at incentives of this nature can make the difference is something that we should prioritise, and we do have the evidence of what it has done in the apprenticeship space.196

He added that he wanted to recognise and champion those employers who are “making a real difference in this area.197

92.Many businesses are fearful of hiring ex-offenders—50% of employers would not even consider offering them a job. This is due to long-standing beliefs about ex-offenders’ reliability and the risks they pose to a company’s public image. Employers need to be encouraged to change their recruitment practices, and given the support to do so. The Government said it wants to recognise and champion those employers who are already employing ex-offenders. We recommend that the Government pilot the reduction of National Insurance contributions for those employers who actively employ ex-offenders. The Government should also consider other ways to recognise and reward employers who take corporate social responsibility seriously and actively employ ex-offenders. It could, for example, be a factor in procurement and commissioning decisions.

93.We recommend that DWP develop practical guidance to help employers recruit ex-offenders. This should include information on spent and unspent convictions, insurance and how to recruit to different roles. It should also include information on businesses who have already hired ex-offenders and what support they can provide to other employers.

Banning the Box

94.There are a number of campaigns and networks that seek to encourage employers to hire ex-offenders. DWP’s See Potential campaign and the Employers Forum for Reducing Reoffending (EFFRR) have both been welcomed by stakeholders. The Government said that the See Potential campaign “showcases the talents and skills of people from disadvantaged groups, including ex-offenders, through social and mainstream media”.198 The EFFRR is a group of around 200 employers who have committed to employing offenders. We heard, however, that these initiatives had only a limited impact. Darren Burns and Christopher Stacey said that See Potential had been “limited to social media” and that employers needed more practical support.199 Paul Anders said that See Potential was well-designed but that campaigns of its nature were “slow and incremental”.200 Unlock told us:

Current good practice employer networks have difficulties in converting commitments from large employers to practical changes in recruitment. For example, many EFFRR employers that proactively and positively work with prisons (e.g. Marks and Spencer) through the gate, fail to follow this through in their broader attitudes towards people with convictions.201

Sam Gyimah admitted that some employers wanted credit for employing ex-offenders without changing wider practices. He told us:

Timpson keeps coming up all the time because they are doing a great job and 10% of their workforce are ex-offenders. They should be recognised. There are some other employers that talk about it and only employ one or two, and that is it, and they like to wear the CSR [Corporate Social Responsibility] badge rather than doing a lot.202

95.Ban the Box is an international campaign that invites employers to remove criminal record disclosure questions from initial job application forms (Box 4). The campaign was started in the US and was launched in the UK by Business in the Community, a charity that promotes responsible business, in 2013.

Box 4: Criminal conviction declaration


Source: Generic job application declaration (provided by Nacro)

96.Removing this tick-box from the application process gives ex-offenders the chance to get further into the application stage before disclosing a conviction. Ex-offenders will still normally need to disclose a conviction, particularly where the job involves working with vulnerable people, but this can happen at a later stage in the process.203 Damian Hinds told us it gave employers an opportunity to meet an ex-offender before making a decision:

You have had an opportunity to meet this person, to see their potential, to find out about their talents and what they can achieve. Then, at the job acceptance stage, you can ask that question. Then the person has an opportunity to explain a little bit more about it.204

Jocelyn Hillman said that when employers actually met ex-offenders “they all come away saying, ‘they are just human beings, just like me.’”205

97.In 2013, David Cameron announced that the civil service would Ban the Box for initial recruitment stages, with exceptions for jobs with specific security requirements.206 Jocelyn Hillman noted that Damian Green MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, had hired a female ex-offender. She told us:

We need more MPs and more big names to hire our candidates and talk openly about it and say, “I have hired women ex-offenders and they are great and the world does not stop”.207

98.Nacro told us that in the United States, Banning the Box was a statutory requirement for government employers and any companies in their supply chain.208 Employers are asked to consider factors such as the nature and seriousness of an ex-offender’s crime, the length of time since the offence and the nature of the role applied for. This allows ex-offenders to provide more information about their conviction and allows employers to make a fairer assessment of the risk to their business. Unlock said:

In the city of Minneapolis, where the City Council banned the box, 57.4% of applicants with convictions in the last seven years were hired (2007–08), compared to just 5.7% hired before the box was removed (2004-6).209

Nacro suggested that the UK Government should consider a similar approach, particularly when many employers “complain of chronic skills shortages”.210

99.Ban the Box does not oblige employers to hire ex-offenders but it increases the chance that they will consider them. When ex-offenders are allowed to progress to later stages in the recruitment process and meet employers, they have the opportunity to show their potential. We welcome the Government’s decision to Ban the Box for the majority of civil service roles. We recommend that the Government extend Ban the Box to all public bodies, with exclusions for the minority roles where it would not be appropriate for security reasons. The Government should also consider making banning the box a statutory requirement for all employers.

100.The successful rehabilitation of ex-offenders is good for the economy. The cost of reoffending to the taxpayer is around £15 billion, plus the cost in benefits for those ex-offenders who want to work but cannot get a job. Helping ex-offenders into work would mean more taxes for the Exchequer and could reduce the skills gap for some industries. Ex-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.

159 This includes those persons with convictions and also those with impending prosecutions, cautions, cases that require no further action and any other criminal justice activity on their record, e.g. arrested but not charged.

160 Unlock (SEO0029)

161 Q173 (Damian Hinds, Minister for Employment)

162 Revolving Doors Agency (SEO0043)

163 Nacro (SEO00062)

165 Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Justice (SEO0033)

167 Q44 (Darren Burns)

168 Nacro (SEO00062)
Convictions with a sentence of 4 years or less will become spent after a certain period of time. This is known as a rehabilitation period. It is against the law for employers to turn someone down for a job or dismiss them because they have been convicted of an offence if the conviction or caution is ‘spent’ - unless an exception applies.

169 Q104 (Christopher Stacey)

170 Nacro (SEO00062)

172 Ibid

173 Q22 (Darren Burns)

174 Ibid

175 Q22 (Kathryn Wildman)

176 Timpson think 15% of ex-offenders on their scheme reoffend. They employ around 450 ex-offenders. Virgin employ 30 ex-offenders and none have reoffended.

177 Q23 (Darren Burns)

178 Q22 (Kathryn Wildman and Darren Burns)

179 Q21 (Kathryn Wildman)

180 Q22 (Darren Burns)

181 Lendlease (SEO0045)

182 Ibid

183 Supplementary written evidence from the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Justice (SEO0063)

184 Q192 (Damian Hinds, Minister for Employment)

185 Q48 (Darren Burns)

186 Q48 (Kathryn Wildman)

187 Q44 (Darren Burns)

188 Q105 (Christopher Stacey)

189 Q103 (Paul Anders)

190 Q44 (Kathryn Wildman)

191 Q44 (Darren Burns)

192 Ibid

193 Q44 (Kathryn Wildman)

194 Q48 (Darren Burns)

195 Q105 (Christopher Stacey)

196 Q221 (Sam Gyimah, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons and Probation)

197 Q212 (Sam Gyimah, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons and Probation)

198 Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Justice (SEO0033)

199 Q42 (Darren Burns) and Q105 (Christopher Stacey)

200 Q105 (Paul Anders)

201 Unlock (SEO0029)

202 Q212 (Sam Gyimah, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons and Probation)

203 These jobs require a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check

204 Q176 (Damian Hinds, Minister for Employment)

205 Q150 (Jocelyn Hillman)

207 Q149 (Jocelyn Hillman)

208 Nacro (SEO00062)

209 Unlock (SEO0029)

210 Nacro (SEO00062)

16 December 2016