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BAME people find it harder to overcome a criminal record to find work

BAME individuals with criminal records face 'double discrimination' when trying to enter employment, according to research

The research by charity Unlock explores the impact of criminal records on employment as experienced by people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

The data in the report, Double discrimination?, shows that more than three-quarters of people surveyed (78%) felt their ethnicity made it harder for them to overcome the problems they faced as a result of having a criminal record. The majority (79%) experienced issues trying to gain employment. These persisted over many years and affected all age groups.

African and Caribbean people were the most affected by having a criminal record, with problems faced including gaining employment, but also relationships, volunteering, insurance, travel and immigration, and further education. The report found that African individuals made up 18% of those affected, and Caribbean 13%.

Although the majority were last cautioned or convicted between one and 10 years ago (32% between one and five years ago, with 31% between five and 10 years ago), 15% were still experiencing problems between 10 and 20 years later and 7% had problems more than 20 years later.

In September 2017 Labour MP David Lammy published his review into the treatment of BAME groups in the criminal justice system. In addition to the inequalities found at each stage, the review highlighted ongoing difficulties caused by criminal records. 'One of the most significant barriers to any ex-offender's prospects of employment is created by public policy – the criminal records regime,' Lammy said in the 2017 report. He suggested that the government should commission and publish a study indicating the costs of unemployment among ex-offenders.

Commenting on the research in Unlock's report, Lammy said: "Those who experience our criminal justice system above all need a different future to aspire to, but our criminal records regime is holding them back. Employers, universities, housing providers and even insurers can and do discriminate against those who disclose this information. This is an issue for all people with a criminal record whatever their ethnic background.

"However, this report by Unlock demonstrates that our criminal records system disproportionality discriminates against those from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. Already facing discrimination when applying for employment, the barriers that BAME individuals face are solidified and compounded by our arcane criminal record process.

"This report shines a light on BAME individuals’ experiences of post-conviction problems – tied to the past and facing multiple disadvantage. I continue to urge the government to reflect hard on the impact of a criminal records regime that traps people in unemployment, contributes to high rates of recidivism, and creates a double penalty for minorities. It’s time for urgent reform," he added.

Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, said that simple changes can be made to the system of disclosing criminal records. He gave the example of employers delaying conviction checks until later in the recruitment process, so that they only ask for the relevant details of criminal records from someone they want to employ.

"Ethnicity is often a visible characteristic to employers but a criminal record is not," Stacey said. "This means that, while tackling ethnicity-based discrimination requires a certain set of responses, tackling conviction-based discrimination needs a different set of responses. For example, minimising or delaying the use of criminal records may benefit BAME groups in particular but would result in a much fairer system for everyone.

“The Lammy recommendations to address ethnic disproportionality must continue, but in the meantime simple changes to the disclosure regime can help level the playing field," he continued. "We urge the government to take forward our recommendations, including to carry out a fundamental review of the criminal records regime and to implement reform of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, including reducing the time before convictions become spent and expanding the scope of legislation so that all convictions can become spent.”

Further reading

Sajid Javid: Remove small criminal offences from job applications

Case study: Giving ex-offenders a Fresh Start

Collecting criminal records during recruitment not GDPR-compliant

Ex-offenders: An untapped talent pool?