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Financial incentives to encourage employers

In our priorities for government, we highlight financial incentives as a key way that government can support business and encourage employers to recruit people leaving prison or on probation and people with unspent convictions.

Many businesses are fearful of hiring people with a criminal record. 75% of companies admit to discriminating against applicants who declare a criminal record. This is often because of long-standing beliefs about their reliability and concerns over the company’s public image. This comes at a cost to society; around a third of people claiming job seekers allowance have a criminal record.

We want government to recognise and champion companies employing people with convictions. Many have seen the benefits of campaigns like Ban the Box as a way of opening up their recruitment to a wider talent pool. Yet there are many more that need incentivising to change their recruitment practices, and support to do so. Unlock is calling on government to pilot financial incentives for employers who actively recruit people leaving prison and on probation.

As a charity helping individuals with convictions overcome stigma, as well as supporting employers to take people on, we think financial incentives should be a key part of government’s strategy to encourage employers in this space.

We’ve published a briefing setting out why we think financial incentives could make a real difference.


How could it work?

We recommend a wage subsidy for relevant employees, based in selected regions, and paid in instalments at agreed intervals in the contract. This would need to be managed through specified services to monitor take-up of incentives and adherence to any conditions. The New Futures Network is a specialist part of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service. They broker partnerships between prisons and employers and are now in contact with over 500 employers nationally. The New Futures Network is well placed to understand employers’ needs and ensure effective delivery of incentives to both people leaving prison and those serving sentences in the community.

It would need to encourage long-term sustainable employment, not successive short-term contracts for a single post to maximise financial benefit.

We recommend a 3-year pilot to ensure enough time to raise awareness and boost take-up as well as realise benefits. The pilot should be regionally based and designed in collaboration with businesses who have expressed an interest in recruiting from this population.

Does this replace Ban the Box?

Unlock were a founding member of Ban the Box in the UK. The campaign calls on employers to remove questions about criminal records from application forms, judging applicants on merit first.

  • Banning the box is only one part of the solution. While many employers are able to see past a conviction when seen in the context of an applicant’s skills and abilities, others remain reluctant – usually because of the misconceptions outlined above. Financial incentives are another tool to influence positive decisions. The two initiatives complement each other in several ways:
  • Both are designed to encourage employers to look at people with convictions as potential employees – judge people first on who they are now, rather than what they did in the past.
  • Ban the Box delays questions about criminal records until later in an application process, instead of on the initial application form – but doesn’t prevent asking before employment commences. 
  • Financial incentives encourage employers to proactively recruit people leaving prison, those on probation and those receiving support from agencies in the community specifically supporting people with convictions. They can still consider the details later in the recruitment process as they would do with any applicant.
  • Employers can comfortably do both – and government should consider ways to incentivise both.

The aim of both ban the box and financial incentives is to encourage employers to give people with convictions a chance. Evidence from employers is that people with convictions make a positive contribution to their business but are often rejected before being given a chance. Financial incentives encourage employers to offer that chance, while ban the box embeds good practice – seeing people for their skills and abilities first.

We are cautiously optimistic about this policy proposal – there are some potential unintended consequences, but that’s why we think it’s important that this is taken forward as a pilot, with the aim of encouraging employers to not only actively employ people with convictions, but also to demonstrate improvements to their recruitment practices and the removal of barriers towards criminal records.

Tell us what you think

Financial incentives are used to influence all kinds of behaviours – from healthy eating to giving up smoking. Do you think they could influence employers to think differently about people with convictions? If you are a recruiter, would an incentive persuade you? Contact and tell us what you think.

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