Long-term unemployment is at its lowest level for more than five years.
A Government-led scheme aimed at helping people back into work has pushed long-term unemployment to its lowest level in more than five years.
This is the bold claim from Government ministers who have been championing their Work Programme as the ‘biggest employment programme Britain has ever seen.’
Figures released last week from the Department for Work and Pensions revealed the number of people out of work for 12 months or more has fallen by 214,000 nationally since 2010.
Private companies A4E and Serco - who have delivered the Work Programme locally for the DWP - have helped more than 5000 long-term unemployed people back into work from January to March 2015.
The scheme provides training and guidance to help those back into work who have been claiming benefits for at least three months.
But what about the people behind the statistics? Reporter Lee Peace spoke to a self-confessed ‘career criminal’ who has managed to turn his life around with the help of the scheme.
Serial offender Keith Oxley is finally on the straight and narrow after a lifetime of crime. Put in a children’s home at age 10 when his mother died, he spent the rest of his youth yo-yoing between care, offender institutions and the streets.
He ended up on drugs, starting with cannabis, before moving on to heroin and crack, and stealing to fund his consuming habit.
Keith, who is formerly from Mexborough but now lives in Balby, admits his crimes run into triple figures - so high he can’t remember how many are on his record.
And he had given up on the prospect of living a normal life - so much so that he would do what he could to stay IN prison even when he was up for release.
The 43-year-old said: “I committed my first offence when I was 12 and carried on offending. It was mainly shoplifting but I’ve never been violent towards anyone.
“I have been in at least 10 prisons and got so institutionalised that I used to feel terror when my sentence was coming to an end.
“I would even mess up my parole meeting so I didn’t get out early.”
He added that a prison cell became his haven from the outside world - as it provided a roof over his head in between long periods of homelessness.
He added: “Prison was safer than the streets. Every time I was released, I went out to nothing – no family, no home, no job. It was the classic revolving door, crime, prison, release, drugs, and on it went. The drugs numbed the pain and fear of living on the streets. I shoplifted to pay for my drugs. I didn’t know how to stop. I am so sorry for the crimes I did, but I’m trying to move forward.”
Following his latest release from jail last year, he vowed, finally, to make a change. He said: “I got clean of drugs in prison and decided I had to change my life now or never.
“I have an 18-year-old son who I wish I could see. He has a loving mum and a good home. When I got out I had two dreams. I wanted somewhere to live and a job.”
A charity helped him find stable housing on his release from HMP Marshgate for shoplifting offences last June and, a month later, he was enrolled on the Government’s Work Programme, delivered in Doncaster by public services provider A4e.
He is working - for the first time in his life - as an industrial cleaner and is convinced this second chance will help him break the cycle of drugs and crime forever.
He said: “It’s the first time in my life anyone has given me a chance. I had a teardrop tattooed on my face when I was a teenager – a dead giveaway of my criminal past.
“But A4e treated me like a human being. They believed in me and made me believe I deserved a second chance. I can’t believe I have my own home and a job. I am so grateful. I am going to work so hard because I don’t want to let anyone down.”
He added that he will be eternally grateful to his new employer.
“When I admitted I had previous convictions, he said: ‘Everyone has a past and everyone deserves a second chance. I’ll give you a trial, see how you do.’ I could not believe it.”
He was offered a job and just six weeks later was supervising new employees.
He said: “It feels great. I am happy to share my story and be honest about my past because I hope it will inspire other people like me to take the help on offer and turn their lives around.”
He added: “My street friends were the only family I had and I had to cut contact with them to avoid falling back into the old life.
“When I see them on the streets, I try to tell them they can change, there is help. If I can do it, you can.
“But you have to be ready to take the help.”
For more information on the Work Programme visit www.gov.uk