On 30th November 2020 changes come into law which significantly alter the situation for many people who have been denied access to jobs they have been suitable for, because of disclosure issues relating in some cases to old offences with little or no relevance to the job they were applying for. This is an area which Apex has been campaigning on for many years now as we have seen so many turned down for employment merely because they ticked the ‘any offences’ box on the application form. While the changes do not go as far as many would wish, we are joining with Recruit with Conviction and other key partners in a national conference tomorrow looking at what has changed and its implications.
As part of this, conference delegates will be hearing the voices of some of our service users talking about the problems they face and how Apex has helped them manage and overcome these. Listening to the voices of those impacted by the justice system is something which we have been doing much more of lately. These listening skills have helped us to adapt our services and advice to the needs of those who turn to us for help, which I guess makes a refreshing change from demanding that they adapt their lives to meet ours.
Listening to people is different from hearing them. As we encourage people to speak to us about the reality of what they face we are then able to train our staff more effectively and to be able to not only recite the rules, but to give genuine and practical advice to service users and to employers.
As we see partnerships growing between agencies and employers to lower the threshold for people with convictions, we are increasingly able to help people access not just a ‘tick the box’ job, but something which engages them, gives them dignity and a role which in turn increases the success rate of longer-term employment and, for many of our clients, lowered rates of offending. However, we all still have some way to go.
While the changes are good news, especially for younger people where rehabilitation periods are reduced, there are still significant issues for those whose offending background leads them to a sentence which is not so easily dealt with. Apex is increasingly working with this client group who are subject to additional restrictions which may mean that potential employers will be very reluctant to take a chance on them. We do so recognising that their needs are likely to be complex and input intensive, and they are also the most likely to fall through existing nets for employment support as well as suffer stigmatisation and social alienation.
This is a forgotten group which urgently needs a strategic response given they are also a rapidly growing offender sub-section, and although Apex remains true to our tradition and ethos of not abandoning anyone, we certainly need to see resources made available to make sure that those who have the greatest barriers to employment and rehabilitation are not the ones who are left behind.
Our social enterprise, All Cleaned Up, now employs over 50 staff, many of whom progress directly from being service users or come with a conviction history, and I strongly believe that enabling proper meaningful work opportunities, even for those with difficult conviction histories, is what is most needed at this time. A place where those motivated to do so can beat the stigma and change their future is not a pipe dream but a successful commercial reality. There just are not enough ACUs around to do what is needed but we are working on it.
I have been very moved by listening to the stories of our clients and, if you get a moment, pop onto our website and read them for yourself. You will get a feel of just what a mountain some of them must climb, and maybe, like me, you will reach the conclusion that anyone with the guts and character to face up to their past and try to move on deserves encouragement not indifference.