Prisoners to get work coaching and benefit help before release

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Inmates will prepare for life outside with a work coach

Two Scottish prisons are starting a pilot scheme to help offenders with job advice and claiming benefits as they near their release dates.

Prisoners will be able to apply for benefits before they leave and get universal credit payments on the day they get out of jail.

Work coaches will also help them be in a better position to secure a job.

UK Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd was due to launch the scheme at HMP Cornton Vale in Stirling.

Prisoners approaching their release date at HMP Perth and Cornton Vale will receive enhanced employment support.

The scheme is a bid to cut the rate of re-offending and is the next stage of a pilot launched last year in three English prisons.

'Seamless transition'

It will use lessons learned in those projects to offer tailored support around employment and the Universal Credit process.

It is the first time it will be extended into a Scottish jail and within a mother and baby unit.

Ms Rudd said: "The transition from life in prison to life back in work should be as seamless as possible.

"Getting ex-offenders back into work benefits the person, the economy and our wider society.

"And the earlier we get people speaking to Jobcentre staff and supporting themselves back into work, the better."

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Amber Rudd was due to launch the pilot at Cornton Vale. The scheme will initially also involve prisoners from Perth.

She added: "Many people leaving prison don't have a job lined up or a strong support system around them, and this can push them to reoffend.

"The UK government is determined to deliver for Scotland and this commitment to Scottish ex-offenders does just that."

The minister also announced that working with the Scottish Prison Service, the DWP will investigate how to best verify prisoner's identity and sign them up to start a new claim for Universal Credit so they are able to access finance once they leave prison.

Currently prisoners are unable to start a Universal Credit claim until they are released.

This can lead to delays in receiving support if they do not have proper identification documents, or are unable to get to the Jobcentre to verify their identity.

How it works

Dedicated work coaches based in Cornton Vale and Perth will help prisoners fill in their benefit claims through restricted and supervised access to computers, and set them up with a Jobcentre interview on the day they are released where they will be able to arrange a payment.

The coaches will also help prisoners tackle other barriers to work, supporting them to obtain IDs, prepare CVs and find training, work experience and other employment support.

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Inmates will be given specialist help to get benefits and work organised before they leave

Many prisoners face difficulties on release, and some of the biggest drivers of reoffending are failure to find work and stable housing.

Latest statistics show that in Scotland one in four ex-offenders was reconvicted within 12 months of being released.

'Precarious circumstances'

Nancy Loucks, chief executive of the charity Families Outside, believes speeding up access to benefits and work would make a big difference.

She told the BBC Scotland news website: "Release from prison presents a number of challenges, not least for families supporting a loved one on their return from prison.

"Families are often already in financial difficulties due to the imprisonment, and the additional person coming home can disrupt such precarious circumstances.

"Families Outside wholeheartedly supports immediate access to welfare benefits on release from prison: this will provide much-needed support on return to the community, reduce the risk of reoffending, and ensure that families are not left to provide financial support they can ill afford."