Want to ‘fix’ labour shortages? Start seeing the person, not their past

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Last week, Dominic Raab called for employers to recruit people in and leaving prison to help plug the skills gap in an array of sectors, from haulage to hospitality. The Secretary of State rightly recognises this is a group of people who are unemployed and underemployed. In encouraging employers to give people a fair chance to get a job, the government is taking steps – albeit baby ones – to change the narrative around employing people with criminal records.  

Whilst we welcome these signs of change from government, they need to translate into more than just words of encouragement. A secure job, somewhere to live and support from family and friends are key to anyone living a positive life. Yet people with criminal records face challenges to this; long periods where they have to disclose their record to employers, housing providers and insurance companies – and even once a conviction is spent, someone’s past can resurface at the click of a Google search button.  When half of employers admit they would discriminate against someone with a criminal record, this matters.

Recent announcements from the government do nothing to address the barriers that stand between the almost 12 million people with a criminal record and a normal life. If we’re serious about getting people back into the workforce and into society, we need to make fundamental changes to a system that leaves people trapped in their past.  

We can’t view people as simply disposable assets who are rolled out at a time of crisis. People with criminal records are not part of a reserve army of labour. Nor will they all necessarily be able to work in an abattoir, drive an HGV lorry or make you the perfect coffee. But everyone deserves the chance of a job, a safe place to live and a sense of connection to their community.  

At Unlock, we want people to be employed because of their skills, experience and ability first and foremost. For this to happen, society needs to believe in rehabilitation, to believe that people can and do change. We need a criminal records disclosure system which is not unnecessarily punitive and arbitrary.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill going currently going through parliament goes a small way to reducing the time periods some people will have to disclose their criminal record, but it doesn’t go far enough. As we continue to campaign for further change, we ask employers to make a difference by seeing the person first – and recognising that in most cases, there is no need to ask someone about their criminal record before you meet them.  

If you’re an employer and want to find out more about criminal records and fair recruitment, visit our Recruit website.

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