Supporting Ex-Prisoners in Establishing Small Businesses

From January 2021, RIFT Social Enterprise (RSE) will be working in partnership with the Faculty of Business and Justice at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), to pilot a new virtual clinic, supporting ex-prisoners in establishing small businesses.  RSE was founded in January 2018 by Jan Post, Chair of the RIFT Group.

RIFT Group is a traditional, professional, firm which specialises in helping individuals obtain tax refunds from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).  RSE is led by Chief Executive, Andy Gullick, a former prison governor, probation officer and an alumnus of UCLan, having graduated from the University in 1992 in Psychology.  UCLan has a strong track record of working in the criminal justice sector and the project goes to the heart of its business school’s mission statement, working with business to empower individuals and positively change lives.

In 2017, the Lammy Review reported that reoffending is estimated to cost the UK taxpayer between £9.5 and £13.5 billion per year.  The Review was an independent enquiry, commissioned by David Cameron, and led by the now Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, David Lammy. It examined the treatment of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals in the criminal justice system but also looked at the data for the population as a whole. 99% of those who go to prison will be released at some stage in their lives  so it is important that prisons work to rehabilitate offenders and reduce reoffending. But, currently, re-offending rates can exceed 40% and half of all crime is committed by those who have already been through the criminal justice system. However, rates halve where the individual gains employment on release.  As Lammy observes:

Ex-offenders need effective services and supportive communities, but above all else, they need work. A job removes dependence on criminality for income, and an opportunity for education or training boosts self-respect and gives ex-offenders a stake in society and in their own future.”   

In line with Lammy, several academic studies have demonstrated the positive impact that work can have as a key source of reduction of recidivism.  However, for those released from a prison environment, there are a number of barriers to re-entry into the workforce, both on the supply and demand side of the labour market.

On the demand side, traditional employment models have been decreasing and self-employment in the UK has been on the rise.  Office of National Statistics figures indicate that there has been a significant growth in self-employment in recent years, increasing from 12% of the working population (3.3m people) in 2001 to over 15% (over 5m people) in 2019.   With the global pandemic and unemployment levels rising sharply, the demand side of the labour market is likely to become increasingly challenging and the focus on self-employment opportunities for ex-prisoners, more important than ever.

In 2018, the Government published its White Paper on Education and Employment for Offenders.  RSE highlighted to the Cabinet Office that the White Paper did not look at self-employment opportunities for prisoners.  Much of the work of RSE has since done has explored ways in which, as part of the rehabilitation process, prisoners and ex-prisoners can be supported in developing skills necessary for viable self-employment.

RSE is working with a number of prisons across the UK to provide support to prisoners and has adapted its operating model swiftly, to ensure continuity of service in the face of Coronavirus.  Working in partnership with UCLan and its students, it is hoped that the offering of key business start-up services can be broadened into areas ranging from basic bookkeeping to digital marketing.  UCLan has a strong track record of operating pro bono law clinics and the partnership represents an exciting opportunity to expand this clinical model and present students with a platform to put their classroom learning into practice.

Research has shown that one of the key factors in successful business start-up is the presence of a network.  Individuals leaving the prison environment have often been isolated from old networks and reintegration into society generally, as well as the business world, is a significant challenge.  It is hoped that the virtual clinic, with planned monthly webinars, will help individuals to make small steps to rebuilding networks.  However, more help is needed and RSE is looking for those with professional experience in the area of business start-up to act as mentors for the prisoners it works with.

If you would like to take part in this exciting initiative, please contact Andy Gullick at RSE ([email protected] or 07954 014382). Page 57 Page 45 Page 62