At the moment anyone with two or more convictions is banned from a wide variety of jobs.
Criminal records hurt your chances of getting a job. Half of employers say they would never hire someone with one, regardless of what the crime was or when it was committed. That’s a problem for the 11 million Brits who have been convicted of something; mostly low-level crimes like motoring offences and drug use.
It’s also a problem for the economy. People who want to work (or work more) but can’t find a job, or people who can’t get a job that would best utilise their skill set are depriving the economy of their innovative ideas, income tax or general productivity.
One solution would be for employers to stop being biased against people who have got caught up in the justice system. Another would be to prevent them from knowing about about employees' pasts.
The UK government currently informs some employers if their job applicants have a criminal record or not through something called the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). DBS checks are required for a huge range of jobs, from teachers to doctors to vets to lawyers to accountants.
The idea is to protect the public - and particularly vulnerable groups like children and the disabled - from nefarious individuals. That in itself sounds perfectly reasonable. The problem is that many people don’t think a criminal record is a good guide to whether a person is trustworthy or not.
The government partially agreed in 2013, when it changed the rules to stop DBS checks flagging anyone guilty of a single non-violent, non-sexual offence that happened years ago and didn’t result in jail time.
Now Home Secretary Sajid Javid wants to go further and allow multiple convictions for minor, long-ago crimes to also be hidden from employers. (Think things like nicking a couple of books as a teenager.) If that happens, it should help as least some people excel in careers that were previously closed off to them.
So how do we get what we need to live? Our livelihoods are our own personal answer to that question, whether it be job in a factory, setting up a start-up, or taking time out to travel. But the economy we live in affects the choices we have in setting up our livelihoods, and we rely on so many other workers around us to be able to do what we do… how do we get the balance right?