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#FREE Charter offers employment help to former offenders

People shaking hands

EX-offenders are to be offered more help and support to improve their future job and life prospects as part of a new initiative launched in Leicester.

The Fair-Chance Recruitment Empowering Employment Charter (#FREE) will involve working with people who want to put their criminal activity of the past behind them and help reintegrate them into the jobs market and steer them towards meaningful employment.

Government figures show that reoffending rates are nine percent lower among ex-offenders who are able to secure a job upon their release, but currently only 17 per cent of offenders manage to get a job within a year of their release from prison.

The #FREE charter was signed in City Hall last week by Leicester City Mayor Peter Soulsby, Leicestershire Police and Crime Commissioner Lord Willy Bach and the regional lead for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Amy Bruce.

The DWP has provided £35,000 worth of funding for the scheme to the city council’s Leicester Employment Hub to work with a project team involving the probation service, charity Leicestershire Cares and ex-offender support organisation APM to devise and deliver a programme of support to help people turn their lives around and get steady employment.

It includes creating a dedicated web page detailing providers, employers and opportunities specifically for ex-offenders, holding events aimed at raising the profile of ex-offenders to employers, and working with employers across the city and county to support people with a criminal past back into employment, apprenticeships and practical work experience.

Employers can show their support for the #FREE Charter by promoting inclusive recruitment practices, sharing opportunities for practical work experience, apprenticeship and jobs, and assisting with the reintegration of ex-offenders back in to the labour market, to help build back lives, reduce reoffending and give people that all-important second chance in life.

The move stems from the ‘Unlock Opportunity’ business breakfast held by partners including Leicester City Council, the Police and Crime Commissioner and the DWP back in 2019, at which signatories from 75 local employers agreed to explore opportunities for recruiting ex-offenders.

Leicester City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “Securing stable, meaningful employment can be a hugely beneficial step for people trying to turn their lives around and put criminal convictions behind them. However, it can prove difficult in many cases for people lacking the right training or skills.

“We want to make sure that guidance, practical help and real hands-on experience is easily accessible, by working with the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, Leicester City Council’s Employment Hub, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Leicestershire Cares on this project.

“It will bring together resources to help both ex-offenders and businesses who are able to offer them a helping hand onto the job ladder.

“I’m very grateful to the businesses and organisations across the city which have already shown an interest in supporting this work, and with the help of this DWP funding we can take the next steps towards developing this initiative further.”

The city council currently has four former offenders undertaking practical work experience on a scheme to rebuild and replace damaged or missing front garden walls along Green Lane Road in Evington, with plans to extend those opportunities to several more under the #FREE charter.

Among those employers nationally who already take on ex-offenders, 86 per cent of them rate ex-offenders as good at their jobs, with 92 percent of employees feeling that having a diverse workforce, including ex-offenders, has helped their reputation.

Leicestershire Police and Crime Commissioner Lord Willy Bach added: “Rehabilitation of ex-offenders plays a vital role in crime prevention. Some people make mistakes. They are often punished for those mistakes with a spell in prison, but it makes no sense for them to be shunned by employers and written off.

“Ex-offenders must be given a chance to reset their lives. This new scheme is an exciting development, and I encourage employers across the city and county to sign up to the charter and get involved.”

Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, Cllr Kirk Master, said: “I want to see employers in Leicester deal with criminal records fairly and recruit more people with previous convictions. This can pay dividends for everyone involved. 

“The fair chance recruitment approach encourages this, and I’m pleased that our active support for this work has helped take things to the next level.”

DWP regional lead Amy Bruce added: “We are committed to supporting ex-offenders move into employment, and provide bespoke training through our Sector-based Work Academy Programme.

“We are asking employers to adapt their recruitment processes to not overlook ex-offenders, as they can offer a diverse range of skills that can benefit any business.”

The Minister for Welfare Delivery, Will Quince, said: “We are proud to be supporting the #FREE charter and together with Leicester City Council we remain committed to ensuring prison leavers stay out of jail for good.

“Helping ex-offenders find work is a crucial part of turning their lives around and cutting crime, and this new scheme not only benefits ex-offenders, but the economy and society as a whole.”

Bakers Waste Service Ltd is one local firm which has a track record of employing ex-offenders. Director Paul Baker added: “Bakers Waste believe in our approach to recruiting ex-offenders due to the overwhelmingly positive results received from doing just this over a period of many years.

“In almost every case the business has received an appreciative, loyal and determined employee, which often has a ripple effect throughout the existing team members and is inducive of a positive and motivational atmosphere.”

Employers interested in supporting the charter can do so by contacting:

Information on help for ex-offenders and details of the charter are also available here.