Punishment and Welfare

As a teenager, I worked for an entrepreneur called Bob Druce. He had built up a number of successful businesses and he carried a quiet and thoughtful disposition combined with a huge stature.  This enabled him to have a legendary status among my peers. The experience of working for him has served me well throughout my career.

Bob was known as a great motivator and I remember a rather pompous business partner asking him, “Bob, do you use the carrot or the stick?”. Bob replied, “Neither, I don’t employ donkeys!”

Motivating people to change their lives after criminal behaviour or long term unemployment, is commonly simplified by populist prattle which is similar to the rhetoric of that pompous questioner.

Pain is not always gain. Typically, humans are blind to the vulnerabilities of others, especially when we think of those people as different to ourselves or when we can’t see them.

Motivating people to change their behaviour is complex and Recruit With Conviction uses the following description of best practice: The right intervention, for the right person at the right time, delivered in the right place, for the right reason and with the most efficient use of resources.

In order to expand my limited knowledge in this field, I recently attended a seminar at University of Edinburgh – Punishment and Welfare Revisited. It was delivered by eminent professors David Garland and Michael Alder. To be honest, some of the theory in the discussion was beyond my comprehension but there are some pursuing thoughts which I can’t help ruminating over.

Criminal Justice and Welfare to Work policies are utterly disconnected for 2 principle of reasons.

1. The policies are developed in departmental silos – In Scotland, welfare to work policy is developed in Westminster and Justice in Holyrood. (Not a political statement  just a fact)

2. The drivers for change have conflicting priorities. The welfare to work priority is benefit “off-flow” and the justice priority is reducing crime.

A job underpins a change from crime and that job should be a positive outcome for the employer and the employee if it is going to be sustainable.

The Recruit With Conviction priorities are; the right job, at the right time, with the right employer, for the right person in the right place. Pressure for fast benefit “off-flows” do not necessarily support this and can cause significant harm at times. If jobs and people are mismatched then this can harm the employer as well as the employee.

If employers have negative experiences, then fair opportunities to compete for work are diminished.

With further Scottish devolution announced for some welfare to work issues, we now have an opportunity to get a little closer to an intelligent solution.

Poverty has a clear connection to crime and while money does not cure poverty any more than morphine cures cancer, generosity, opportunity and compassion, go a long way.

So, rather than treating humans like donkeys for a short term fix, we can motivate lasting change by simply empowering talented key workers and employers to get it right.


Richard Thomson

Director, Recruit With Conviction