Bank chief urges employers to give former drug addicts a job

By Rightnow289 · Jul 5, 2009 ·
  1. Rightnow289
    Barclays boss says recovering crack and heroin users can make loyal, highly motivated workers

    One of the UK's most influential businessmen believes that companies must do more to employ former crack and heroin addicts - even in the jaws of a recession.

    In an article posted today on the Commentisfree website, John Varley, chief executive of Barclays, argues that big business can play a crucial role in helping former addicts and homeless people on the path to rehabilitation.

    Varley, who is president of the Employers' Forum on Disability and the UK Drug Policy Commission, the independent body that collects evidence on the harm caused by drugs, urges companies not to turn their backs on former users as the economy falters.

    "It might seem like an unusual time to be asking ourselves how we can do more to engage with disadvantaged groups, such as recovering drug users or the homeless," he writes. "But they should remain on our mind because if, as employers, we turn our backs on these groups we are accumulating problems for the future, with implications for the long-term recovery of both individuals and the economy."

    His comments are likely to trigger a national debate on the merits of employing former addicts. It is not known how many "clean" former addicts there are in the UK. However, it is estimated there are about 400,000 heroin and crack users and some 80% of them are not in jobs.

    The cost to the taxpayer is immense. A report by the Department for Work and Pensions suggests that up to 240,000 problem users in England alone may be receiving out-of-work benefits - representing about 7% of those receiving jobseeker's allowance or incapacity benefit.

    A study by the Drug Policy Commission found that two-thirds of employers would not recruit a former heroin or crack cocaine user, even if otherwise suitable for the job. And those that would do so usually operate an arbitrary "two years' drug-free" rule.

    But Varley suggests former users can make good employees. "Research from Business Action on Homelessness and the UK Drug Policy Commission shows that, despite common perceptions, many homeless people and those with a history of addiction are highly motivated to work (and most have worked), and their loyalty and commitment is typically very noticeable," he writes. "That's because, for them, it is not just a job but a real indication that they are getting their lives back on track. A job can provide a new identity, a new social circle and increased self-esteem - in short, a fresh start."

    There will be doubts about the merits of giving jobs to former users at a time when unemployment is rising significantly, but Varley, whose bank employs some 155,000 people across 50 countries, claims there are benefits from making a commitment to the most vulnerable in society.

    "During an economic downturn (but particularly a severe one like this) there is a risk that we simply adopt a 'charity begins at home' stance, and shift our focus away from those on the margins of society. Yet I have seen first hand the real benefits (both for employer and employee) for those who are prepared to hire suitable candidates from the widest possible pools of talent (including the disadvantaged)."

    Varley's comments have been backed by leading drug charities. "We hope that it encourages other employers to recognise that they can help someone sustain recovery from addiction and in the process acquire loyal employees," said Nick Barton, chief executive of Action on Addiction.

    "Work has been shown to be an important component of rehabilitation and reintegration into society, helping to reduce the incidence of relapse. We have a number of positive examples from our Working Recovery programme, which has been helping people for more than 10 years."

    The programme provides a bridge between treatment and recovery by teaching vocational skills.

    Jamie Doward, home affairs editor
    The Observer, Sunday 5 July 2009
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