Each year, The Big Issue celebrates Changemakers that are contributing to positive social change across the country. We want to thank them by recognising their hard work and by helping more people to find out more about their projects and campaigns.
For people with past criminal convictions, finding their feet can be challenging at the best of times and seemingly impossible at the worst. But, there are recourses out there to help men and women start again. This often means improving working conditions and making employees aware of their rights.
These are the Changemakers that have dedicated their time helping ex-offenders find jobs and hoping to make the working world fairer.
Women with convictions can find employment and rebuild their lives thanks to Working Chance. The charity matches women with employment opportunities and works with policymakers and employers to break down barriers for women with convictions.
In June 2021, they released important research about how racism in the criminal justice system harms women’s chances of finding work. It calls for the government to implement recommendations from the Lammy Review. It also urges employers to practise anti-racist recruitment that does not discriminate against people with convictions. Lizzy Jewell, head of communications and engagement, tells us more.
What is Working Chance?
Working Chance is the UK’s only charity dedicated solely to supporting women with convictions into employment. We provide them with the skills and support they need to develop their employability, and help them build lives that give them purpose, hope and financial independence. We also work to create better-informed and more empathetic attitudes about women with convictions.
What did Working Chance achieve in 2021?
We were able to continue expanding our support beyond London, helping women across England and Scotland. We supported hundreds of women through our employability programme. And the results speak for themselves – 82 per cent of our clients report a positive increase in their job skills and experience since joining us. We also launched a flagship policy and campaign group of women with experience of the criminal justice system, called Changemakers. The Changemakers are campaigning to reform Universal Credit so it can better support women with convictions, and have engaged with policymakers and the media on the campaign. We also launched original research, Worst Case Scenario, which analyses how racism in the criminal justice system affects women’s chances of finding employment.
What was the biggest challenge in 2021 for Working Chance?
The pandemic meant we had to respond to an uncertain environment. We continued to deliver our services online as the employment landscape was shifting every day. We had more clients who came to us for support because they had recently lost their jobs. But, at the same time, challenges like the recent labour shortage became an opportunity for us to convince more employers to hire women with convictions to fill those skills gaps. We’re being approached by more employers than ever before who want to diversify their hiring practices, which means we can offer the women we support more choice and empowerment in their futures.
What does Working Chance want to achieve in 2022?
We had an influx of new employers who want to meet their hiring needs during a labour shortage, and we are determined to turn this moment into longer-term change. As the world adjusts to the pandemic, we also hope to again be able to reach and support women who are still in prison so that they are best placed to succeed once they leave. We hope to engage and positively influence policymakers to create policies that support women with convictions. These include better resettlement support and better access to Universal Credit for women leaving prison. We also plan to continue dispelling negative assumptions that employers and the public have about women with criminal records.
The Skill Mill
Social enterprise The Skill Mill employs ex-offenders to work on environmental projects. In an achievement that defies national rates, just 17 of the 225 young people who have worked there so far have reoffended. Founder David Parks says, “The environmental conservation work we get the young people doing – digging ditches, building gardens, clearing waterways – is very labour-intensive work. It’s good for mental health because it’s outdoors, and what they tell us they enjoy more than anything else is that it’s outdoor and physical, because that kind of work makes them feel less stressed.
“We currently employ 40 young people, and we’re launching five new teams for 2022. With teams across the country, we hope to create another path for young people with convictions across the UK.”
Committed to making the criminal justice system fairer for all, Commons Law aims to reset the balance in the legal system where money (or absence of it), ethnicity, age and mental ability can all play a deciding role in the outcome.
Commons Law is staffed by lawyers who trained at some of the UK’s leading law firms. They take a holistic approach to defence – taking into account clients’ underlying social needs and supporting them to improve their overall wellbeing outside of the courtroom. They are working with Migrants’ Law Project on a three-year project to support vulnerable young people with insecure immigration status, who can be specifically disadvantaged by ‘hostile environment’ legislation.
Based in South London, they are the country’s first non-profit Community Interest Company law firm, meaning all profits generated are reinvested into the firm’s mission.