Virgin Trains helps stop ex-offenders going off the rails

  | James Innes

Every year, the estimated cost to the UK taxpayer of reoffending is estimated to be up to £13 billion! Imagine what the government could do for the NHS with £13 billion ... but that's a subject for a different blog post altogether.

Government statistics from 2013 suggest that 43% of people leaving prison are likely to reoffend, a figure that reduces dramatically to just 18% if they are given a job. So it's a no-brainer. Help ex-offenders find employment when they leave prison, they are statistically less likely to reoffend and they also start giving something back to society. Sounds so easy, but unfortunately many employers are just not prepared to give ex-offenders the chance that they need. After all, would you want a reformed thief working on your shop floor?

Sir Richard Branson is one of a small number of employers who would answer that question with a firm Yes! Since 2011, he has been pioneering the recruitment of ex-offenders in his Virgin group of companies. Virgin Trains West Coast has a dedicated employment programme for ex-offenders and 25 people are now in full-time positions within the company. Doesn't sound a lot does it? Less than 1% of the total workforce of 3,500. Especially when you compare it to the Timpson Foundation, which now employs about 400 ex-offenders in its key cutting and shoe repair shops, which is approximately 10% of the workforce.

However, the other measure that Branson has put in place is that Virgin companies also no longer actively screen job applicants for criminal records. They don't even ask the question any more unless it is a requirement of a specific position. So the number of ex-offenders employed by Virgin could be a lot higher.

Either way, Branson should be applauded for his policy of actively and passively recruiting ex-offenders. Whilst not all of those people leaving prison want to find work and complete their rehabilitation process, there are many more who just want to be given a second chance. There is dignity in employment. There is hope for a better future for them and their families. And everybody deserves that, surely?

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