Prevention is better than cure: How early action can create lasting change

Jocelyn Hillman is the founder and CEO of Working Chance. This is the first in a series of guest blog posts based on NCVO’s manifesto, A Bigger Difference.

There are less than 100 days to go before the next general election. As the countdown continues, everyone from the British Legion to the Sun and the NUS has pitched in their two-pence worth, seizing this opportunity to produce manifestos and recommendations for the next government. Much of the conversation about what the next government should do revolves, of course, around money, and will play a major part in determining the election’s final outcome.

Recommendations from the voluntary sector have focused particularly on the need for preventative spending. The NCVO manifesto makes an excellent case for the importance of developing long-sighted strategies, rather than patching up problems in ways that won’t last. But where exactly should the government focus its preventative spending, in order to ensure maximum long-term impact?

The voluntary sector – making a bigger difference

The voluntary sector has a long history of helping vulnerable, marginalised people where government or private sector has failed. I am CEO of the charity Working Chance, which supports women with criminal convictions into sustainable, quality jobs. We are uniquely placed to understand the potential impact of preventative spending on the criminal justice system.

That prevention is better than a cure holds true for criminal justice as it does for any other social issue. In order to cut crime rates, it is vital to focus on the at-risk population. The voluntary sector does a lot of work with limited resources to support people at risk of offending, but the next government must do more to support its efforts. One way to tackle offending is to reduce the number of young people entering care, which is why Working Chance supports women to provide for their families and stay out of prison.

Some 18,000 children are separated from their mothers by imprisonment each year and the majority are sent to live with extended family or placed into care; in 2013/14 the estimated annual cost of keeping a child in care was £36,524. According to the Bromley Briefings Autumn 2014, young people who are cared for by social services are over four and a half times more likely to commit a criminal offence than those who aren’t. In order to create long-lasting change, preventative spending must focus on empowering marginalised women to support themselves and their children.

Sustainability is key

When it is not possible to prevent a problem, it is vital to deal with it before it gets out of hand. Forty six per cent of adults leaving prison in the UK are reconvicted within one year of release, while that figure rises to a shocking 67% for under-18s.

Sustainable employment is a crucial factor in reducing reoffending. Reoffending among women we place into employment is consistently below 5%, and 0% whilst in the workplace – in stark contrast with the national average of 45%. With the annual cost of keeping a woman in prison estimated at £45,000, high reoffending rates are an unsustainable burden.

Contribution, not exclusion

We believe the next government should make preventative spending a priority. We suggest it should lead by example, by hiring people with convictions to public sector roles. It should also ensure that women in prison are provided with relevant training, rather than token certificates: in 2010 the UK taxpayer funded 94,000 hair and beauty qualifications, despite the fact that there were only 18,000 vacancies in the industry.

The Working Chance model empowers women with convictions to cross the social divide from a life of exclusion to one of contribution. This is one example of how preventative spending can change lives: we hope the next government will be on board.

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