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Housing

Plan to cut reoffending by housing ex-prisoners ‘dangerously underfunded’

The government says their £13m scheme to stop homelessness and reoffending after prison is ambitious, but the funding may work out at less than a week’s rent per person in some parts of the country.

Government plans to cut reoffending by stopping people falling into homelessness when they leave prison have been criticised as “underfunded and potentially dangerous” by frontline charities.

As part of its Beating Crime Plan, the government announced a scheme to provide £13 million for councils to help accommodate prison leavers over the long term.

The support will be shared among 140 English councils – averaging £93,000 per council – to provide support for getting prison leavers back on their feet with money for rent deposits, specialised insurance and dedicated staff support. 

However, David Lammy, Labour’s shadow justice secretary and a Big Issue ambassador, said the £13m pledge for housing would work out at just £244 each for the 53,253 prison leavers who were released from custody in 2020.

“We know that prison leavers without stable accommodation are on average 50 per cent more likely to reoffend,” he said.

“However, the government’s announcement of just £244 per prison leaver for accommodation will make very little difference. In London it will cover less than a week of average rent,” he said.

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Lammy added: “Piecemeal tinkering will do little to fix the decade of cuts to the justice system, the CPS, the police, housing, social services and local government, as well as the failed privatisation of the probation service, which created this epidemic of crime in the first place.” 

More than 27 per cent of the 24,000 prisoners released between March and July 2020 were released into homelessness or unknown circumstances, according to Ministry of Justice data obtained by Switchback, a London-based charity that supports prison leavers. 

The new government plan will give “offenders the incentive and opportunity to break the cycle of repeat offending and will save thousands of law-abiding people from becoming victims,” justice secretary Robert Buckland said. 

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick added: “By supporting offenders into their own accommodation and keeping them off the streets they’ll have a better chance of turning their lives around – reducing reoffending and making our communities safer.”

But the plans were attacked by prison reform organisations, who described the claims as “over-inflated”. 

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League, toldThe Big Issue the plans to cut reoffending were “puffed up” and potentially dangerous as they could backfire by over-promising and under-delivering.

“I’m glad they’re talking about housing people [after prison] and trying to get people jobs,” Crook said, but added: “It doesn’t come out to a lot of money. That doesn’t create housing for many people, does it?”

Crook added: “It’s quite dangerous to over-inflate your plans, because people expect something to work. And when it doesn’t it upsets people, and they get angry and frustrated – and even more punitive.”

Homelessness charities said the plan to tackle homelessness and reoffending was long overdue but incomplete.

“A lot of the barriers that people face to access the private rental sector mean that they will need extra support” such as help with a deposit, Ruth Jacob, senior policy officer at Crisis, a homelessness charity that has campaigned for post-prison support, told The Big Issue.

Tailored help for prison leavers to rebuild their lives is vital to curtail the “risk of cycling in and out of homelessness and going back to the streets,” she added.

“We see from government a lot of different initiatives and funding pots, and there are good things in lots of them, but what we need to see is a comprehensive overarching strategy that really brings it all together,” Jacob said.

Hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of losing their homes right now. One UK household is being made homeless every three-and-a-half hours.

You can help stop a potential avalanche of homelessness by joining The Big Issue’s Stop Mass Homelessness campaign. Here’s how:

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