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Offender management and rehabilitation

The impact of the cost of living crisis on prison leavers and people on probation

Close-up of hands opening a wallet. The words "Cost of Living Crisis" are overlaid on the top.

Prison leavers and people on probation face significant barriers and financial challenges when moving back into the community. The cost of living crisis has further exacerbated the struggle. Catch22’s Finance, Benefit and Debt service supports these individuals to help navigate these issues and improve their outcomes.

Due to the cost of living crisis, millions of households across the country are increasingly struggling to make their incomes cover essential costs, with the inevitable result of the most vulnerable people being at risk of falling deeper into poverty.

Office for National Statistics data published in December 2022 paints a picture of the current situation across the UK:

  • 92% of adults reported the cost of living crisis as an important issue facing the UK today
  • More than half of adults (53%) reported that they were ‘very’, or ‘somewhat’, worried about keeping warm in their home this winter
  • Around one in five adults (21%) said they were ‘occasionally’, ‘hardly ever’, or ‘never’, able to keep comfortably warm in their home in the past two weeks

Prison leavers and people on probation

Catch22’s Finance, Benefit and Debt (FBD) service, commissioned by the Ministry of Justice, works with a particular cohort of individuals, prison leavers and people on probation (PoPs), to support their financial needs. This cohort already face a plethora of financial challenges when they’re moving from custody into the community, which, in the backdrop of a of living crisis, are significantly exacerbated. Our service users are represented in the above statistics and many of them face much harder decisions than whether or not to turn on their heating over winter.

The finance specific barriers faced by prison leavers and people on probation include not having ID (often meaning they are unable to open a bank account), having no or delayed access to benefits and inconsistent income due to issues securing employment. In addition, many face debt, often payment from before they were in custody such as court fines. Deductions from the often very limited income they have for previous Universal Credit advances, and court fines, also means individuals come to us struggling to make ends meet with very little to cover essential costs. Many also struggle to adjust to life outside of prison, and need support navigating the digital world and online banking, for example.

To add further challenge, the system for seeking the correct financial support can be overwhelming and convoluted.

Financial advice

Catch22’s Finance, Benefit and Debt service aims to tackle these challenges by providing two to nine sessions, depending on the complexity of the service user’s financial needs. After receiving referral information from probation officers, we carry out an initial assessment to ascertain the bespoke needs of each service user, and then tailor an action plan with interventions to suit and support them. Support provided ranges from opening a bank account, obtaining ID, tackling digital poverty, supporting them to deal with debts including any court fines (facilitated by our FCA advisers), accessing and navigating the benefits system, and budgeting amongst other interventions.

Whilst the Finance, Benefit and Debt team will support service users to improve their outcomes and get them back on their feet, at the same time, we strive to provide them with the knowledge, skills, and confidence that empowers them to tackle finance, benefit and debt issues themselves when interventions with us come to an end.

Contributing positively to society

More than anything, people leaving custody need stability and security to rehabilitate and positively contribute to society again. In the face of a cost of living crisis, this already mammoth task is made ever more difficult. Services like Finance, Benefit and Debt prioritise a relational approach to guide and advocate for the fundamental financial needs of our service users, many of whom will never have had someone to do so before.

The positive knock-on effect of greater financial stability is huge; often improved mental health, better relationships and therefore much less likelihood of reoffending. Services like ours play a vital role in making this a reality.

Case study

The below case study from Financial Wellbeing Adviser, Enmanuel Gomez, demonstrates some of the great work the Finance, Benefit and Debt team have been completing.

“Before support from the Finance, Benefit and Debt service, the service user wasn’t aware of his financial situation and had no savings, which was causing him stress. He was initially unwilling to engage with the service, and had no interest in analysing his financial situation.

“Through sessions, a safe and judgement free space was created for discussion around the benefits of understanding finances. An income and expenditure sheet, to look into his financial situation, was worked on in collaboration during the first session.

“In further sessions with Catch22, he began to feel more positive about his finances, creating a budget so that he could see all his expenditure in one place (which showed that his mobile phone bill was too high). Food bank vouchers were also provided to help reduce food expenditure and maximise income.

“Through engagement with the Finance, Benefit and Debt service, the service user felt more positive and confident about their financial situation and how to maximise their income, supported by help to begin the Help to Save government scheme and cancelling extra expenses.”

This clearer picture of his finances and maximisation of income helped to reduce stress and empowered him to continue improving himself and his relationships.