At our reducing reoffending event at the end of May, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice – Robert Buckland – announced an increase in the discharge grant for the first time since 1995, from £46 to £76. Rebranded as the “one-off subsistence payment”, this is money given on release to prison leavers for immediate essentials, and comes into effect today. The revised grant is part of what the Lord Chancellor has referred to as an “overall approach that involves a home, a job, a friend” – which is a much-needed focus on the support required by those leaving prison.
After years of lobbying from the criminal justice sector, this is welcome news and will make a difference to those crucial first hours and days after release from prison. How do we know this? It’s what our staff and service users tell us. At Nacro, we listen to our staff and service users about what works and what doesn’t and what would make a difference to their lives. Consistent themes raised by staff and service users include: a lack of financial resources on release for the basics, including the low discharge grant; the need for somewhere to live; and the need for improved communication. These are the things we continue to focus on.
We are all too aware, through over 50 years’ of delivering criminal justice services in prison and in the community, that prison leavers continue to face significant barriers to rehabilitation upon leaving prison. The welcome increase in the old discharge grant must be one step towards a broader package of support for people leaving prison.
Far too many prison leavers continue to be released from prison without access to the basic essentials that give them the best chance at building the foundations for a better life. Matthew* is just one of the many thousands of people we work with upon release from prison. Released during the winter with clothes cobbled together from the donation room at the prison reception, the discharge grant enabled him to purchase a warm jacket and some boots. Yet, upon arriving at this emergency accommodation – he found it completely empty apart from a bare mattress. The additional £30 from the subsistence payment would have been particularly important at this stage. Fortunately, we were able to provide Matthew with bed linen, a duvet and a mini heater, along with essential food, cutlery and kettle. But many prison leavers won’t benefit from such support, which is why we are calling on the Government to provide a comprehensive package of measures to support people leaving prison. Providing this support helps the Government achieve its own objectives – cutting crime by lowering reoffending rates and eradicating rough sleeping chief among them.
So, what should this package include?
We believe everyone leaving prison should have somewhere to live, immediate access to sufficient financial resources and a release pack to help with the basics – three important parts to any package of measures.
Everyone leaving prison with somewhere to live:
We know at Nacro just how critical having somewhere to live is after release. Before COVID-19 hit, around 1,000 people were released from prison homeless every month, with little chance of turning their lives around. The Government has itself stated that those released without stable accommodation are 50% more likely to reoffend. The damage this causes to individuals, families and communities up and down the country is incalculable. And we know that reoffending costs the Government approximately £18bn every single year. Our priority for the fast-approaching Spending Review in the autumn is to campaign for a commitment that no one should leave prison homeless and for longer-term funding for accommodation and support for people leaving prison at risk of homelessness across the whole country.
Everyone leaving prison with immediate access to sufficient financial resources:
In addition to an increased discharge grant, the necessary steps should be taken to ensure that every person leaving prison can access their first Universal Credit payment on the day of release. Currently, an application can only be submitted once someone has been released from prison, often leading to unnecessary delays which could have been resolved if the application had been processed earlier – a small change which would make a big difference.
Access to an acceptable form of ID is also particularly important, as ID is required to begin a Universal Credit application. It is also required to open a bank account and in order to access more basic services. Yet, too often people are released without one.
We have also called for a “Release Pack” to be a key part of the resettlement process. This would include basic toiletries such as a toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant along with COVID-related items such as hand sanitiser. It would include basic food supplies to cover the first few hours and days following release.
Additionally, a mobile phone should be provided for those who need one. This would allow for easy contact with key resettlement services – such as probation and substance misuse services – as well as allowing prison leavers to begin the process of applying for Universal Credit.
Finally, there is a need for a resettlement checklist with clear points of contact for probation and other resettlement services, along with clear information about COVID-19 and any other ongoing restrictions.
We know from our work how hard it can be for people faced with the obstacles above. And we also know that these can all be further exacerbated when someone is released from prison on a Friday – creating even higher barriers to effective resettlement. The race against the clock on a Friday afternoon to try and get all the required support in place will be a frustration shared by many who support people leaving prison. With reduced or no services over the weekend, if that support isn’t secured on the Friday, too many are left to struggle over the weekend without somewhere to live or without access to health or financial support. This can increase the likelihood of re-offending. We continue to call for a change which would allow someone to be released on a different day of the week where it would help their resettlement.
Get this right and the Government will go a long way towards breaking the cycle of reoffending, building safer communities and giving prison leavers the best chance at a second chance.
Nacro Policy and Public Affairs Team