Linking the Offender and Benefits Databases
Nigel Williams, 4 January 2012
The Ministry of Justice and Department for Work and Pensions are to be congratulated for linking together databases of offenders and benefit claimants to see what can be learnt about individuals appearing on both systems. There is enough overlap, people that at different times offend and receive benefits, to reveal some patterns, provided one is careful not to assume that all benefit recipients must also be offenders.
The first question: how big is the overlap?
In the month before sentencing, one third of offenders had been in regular employment. DWP term this “P45 employment” to recognize that it does not include the self-employed, informal cash-in-hand work, or wages too low to trouble the tax system. The matching process covers “recordable offences”, meaning from more serious motoring offences upwards and leaves out many crimes normally punished only by a fine, such as TV licence evasion. This has some effect on the make-up of the people matched between the two databases. Over half those sentenced had been claiming out-of-work benefits in that month, with almost a quarter on Job-Seekers Allowance. For theft or handling stolen goods, two thirds had been on out-of-work benefits and under a quarter (22 per cent) in P45 employment.
The corresponding statistic is what proportion of people on out-of-work benefits, especially Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA), committed an offence. Of 1.2 million JSA claims open at the start of December 2010, 400,000 were listed in the Police National Computer as having offended in the ten years previously. The proportion is one third. For all out of work benefits, the fraction is just over a quarter of claims, but with the distortion that many people are eligible for more than one benefit. It is a substantial proportion, but there are still rather more law abiding citizens on out-of-work benefits than offenders.
The Second Question: What does it mean?
A criminal record is known to make getting a job harder. Nearly half (47 per cent) of prisoners were still on benefits two years after release. Three quarters claimed at some point in that time and the average was to claim for almost half the period. Add to that 11 per cent back in prison after two years and 46 per cent back in prison within two years and the numbers are much higher than those progressing to P45 employment. Only 15 per cent were employed (on a P45 basis) after two years and 29 per cent had been employed over the period. After prison, some barriers to employment persist, whatever the motivation of the ex-prisoner.
The high level of overlap does not imply total correspondence. Two thirds of JSA claims were by people without recordable offences. One third of offenders in 2010 had been in P45 employment and more can be assumed to have had other forms of work. One third of individuals sentenced for theft or handling had not been receiving benefits in the previous month. The message of the data linkage is that society does not have to presume that a whole category of people break the rules. There are people that commit offences that have jobs and who do not claim benefits. There are people receiving benefits that have never committed any offence. The linking gets beyond that. It is possible to tell which individuals both claim benefits and commit offences. It is even possible to tell whether they have little success finding honest employment. In those cases, there is a much stronger argument for suggesting that people could be obliged to work for their benefits, especially when considering that this may apply to around a quarter of out-of-work benefit claims.