In October 2015 I found myself sitting in front of a job centre adviser desperate for her to help me find a job so that I’d have some money to buy my kids some Christmas presents and to put that all important turkey on the table.
I didn’t care what I did. I hadn’t been out of prison that long so I couldn’t afford to be choosy.
If I’m honest, my experience of the job centre up until then hadn’t been great. On the day I first went to sign on I thought it would be best to be honest about my criminal record but, as soon as I started explaining them, the advisers attitude towards me totally changed. Gone was the happy, helpful lady of five minutes ago, chatting about the weather and her holiday. Now she was ‘looking down her nose’ at me, hurrying me along, desperate to get rid of me.
I’ve got a couple of convictions for fraud. Nothing to be proud of and I’ve got no excuse for breaking the law. But I’m a decent bloke; certainly not violent or dangerous.
Still, I tried not to let the advisers attitude bother me and I always turned up for my appointment with a smile on my face, ready and willing to ‘engage’.
So on this particular morning the adviser told me:
“You’ve come at the right time. Royal Mail is just starting to recruit for Christmas staff. You can apply online.”
Sounds great especially if like me, your name’s Pat! Sadly though not a job for me. I’d tried applying for a similar role immediately after I got released from prison only to be told that the Royal Mail have a blanket ban on recruiting anybody with an unspent conviction for fraud (and a whole range of other offences as well).
As I was explaining this to the adviser, she started tutting and the look on her face told me that she thought I was making excuses. I really wasn’t. It didn’t stop her saying:
“If you don’t apply, you run the risk of being sanctioned”
So, I tried to apply but could only get so far on the application form before it told me I was unsuitable. As expected, when I told the job centre that I hadn’t been able to apply, I was sanctioned.
Why is it that these people who are meant to be there to help you, actually offer no help? Mainly because they don’t have a clue about how to help somebody who has a criminal record.
I would probably have had good grounds to appeal the sanction but decided that dealing with the job centre was just causing me additional problems and stress. The adviser I was dealing with was no help and I wasn’t confident that another would be any better. Added to which, I felt that if I asked to change advisers I would just be labelled ‘difficult’ or ‘problematic’.
As I sat at home trawling the internet, I came across Unlock. I wasn’t sure what they did but thought I’d give them a call. After I’d finished telling the guy on the phone my story, he agreed that I’d have had no chance of a job with Royal Mail with an unspent conviction (it’s a well-known fact apparently) but told me to have a look at Unlock’s list of friendly employers.
I hadn’t heard of a lot of the companies on the list but followed some of the links and came across a company looking for a delivery driver. I had the skills and experience and clicked onto their online application form. One of the questions asked if I had a ‘police record’ but even when I selected ‘yes’ it still allowed me to continue to the end of the form. A week later I was invited to attend an interview and two days after that I started work.
A year on, I’m loving my job. I’m pretty much my own boss when I’m out and about in my van. The company know about my conviction – they employ many people like me but they don’t make a big deal about it. They’ve been on the Sunday Times Best Employer List since 2012 and their office is really close to the job centre. So I find it even more extraordinary that an expert at the job centre didn’t point this company out to me at my very first visit.
My experiences with the job centre have been pretty bad and I’m sure there are some good advisers around. I really believe that all job centre staff need to be trained in how to deal with ex-offenders and have a much better understanding of the problems that are very specific to them.
The only thing that helped me get my job was my own motivation and, of course, a little help from Unlock!
By Pat (name changed to protect identity)