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Supporting women to have a working chance

8 March 2016

Today is International Women’s Day. We’re also announcing funding for the Early Action Task Force to support the local implementation of policies and practice that focus on ‘acting earlier’.

A great example of an early action service supporting women is Working Chance, the UK’s only recruitment consultancy for women with criminal convictions. It operates in partnership with prison and probation services across London and the South East, preventing re-offending by enabling female ex-offenders to find quality employment.

early-action-blogWhy is this early action?

Sustainable, paid employment is a crucial factor in reducing re-offending. Women make up only 5% of our national prison population, so most statutory services for ex-offenders are geared towards of men. Fewer than one in ten women leaving prison have secured employment upon release, an outcome three times worse than for men.

Working Chance empowers women to be financially independent and stimulated in work, making them less likely to re-offend, better able to care for their children and contribute to society. By working in prisons to prepare women for release and continuing their support after they’re placed into work, it’s enabling ex-offenders to make a smooth, long-term transition back into mainstream society.

How does it work?

All sorts of women come to Working Chance. Because there’s no typical female ex-offender, Working Chance offers tailored assessment, support, training and recruitment. There are often multiple barriers to employment for these women so it also provides social and financial support, helping women overcome challenges including debt, homelessness, domestic abuse and mental health issues.

Getting to know the ‘whole woman’ helps Working Chance put the right support network in place, enabling them to make lasting changes. Because many of the women Working Chance support are mothers, this is often about empowering them to improve their children’s life through work. 17,000 children are separated from their mothers by imprisonment each year, the vast majority of which enter the care system. While only 1% of under-18s are in care, 61% of girls in prison have spent time in care. As part of its commitment to breaking the intergenerational cycle of crime, Working Chance has recently launched Total Transitions, its project supporting young women leaving care into training and employment to reduce their risks of offending.

What has it achieved?

Just 7% of women who’ve been placed into work by Working Chance re-offend, compared with the 45% national average of women leaving prison. The main challenge is finding employers willing to hire ex-offenders. Attitudes are changing, but many remain fearful doing so will damage its reputation with clients and the media. Working Chance is leading by example, with 40% of its staff having personal experience of the criminal justice system. It’s also running an apprenticeship scheme enabling women with convictions to become fully qualified recruitment consultants.

What can we learn?

Working Chance’s culture of focusing on where women are going, and not where they’ve been is what makes it effective. Unlike most contact these women have with services, they’re treated as individuals with potential, not ex-offenders. Working Chance shows that an organisation’s culture and the relationship it fosters between staff and those using its services, has a great impact on how they perceive themselves and their ability to change their situation.

Although the women Working Chance supports have already faced great challenges, it’s still not too late to act one stage earlier and prevent the cycle being repeated. Today’s funding will enable the Early Action Task Force to find and share more examples of “what works” and encourage practitioners, funders and policymakers to think one step sooner.

The Early Action Task Force is publishing more early action examples next month. It is also keen to find more examples of local early action. If you have a story to share, get in touch at



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