I’ve just come back from my latest meeting with my work programme advisor. That experience, and others recently, have driven me to write about the failures that I think are contributing to the difficulties that people with convictions face.

Okay, so I’ve got convictions. The most recent, seven years ago, was fairly serious – I was sent to prison for a few months. But since then, I’ve tried my best to rebuild my life and provide for my family. I’ve had a few jobs since then, but for various reasons, they’ve not worked out.

So, I’ve been unemployed for a couple of years now. My first ‘frustration’ came from the Job Centre. As soon as they found out that I had a criminal record, their attitude towards me changed completely. To be fair, that’s how I found out about Unlock, but annoyingly, they didn’t really know what Unlock did – they said that Unlock could help me find a job. It seemed like they just wanted rid of me, so were clutching at straws to ‘pass me off’. I’m glad I found out about Unlock, as I’ve learnt so much about what I do and don’t have to disclose, and how to go about disclosing to employers, but it annoyed me that the Job Centre thought they could simply wash their hands of me like that. Even worse, when I went back armed with the knowledge I’d got from Unlock, they looked at me clueless. They clearly didn’t know much about the rules on disclosure. I’ve since learnt that the job centre office I went to had an ‘ex-offender lead’ – what a joke she was! She hadn’t had any training on disclosure – apparently, the job centre can’t afford it (so she said)!

Then, eventually, I moved onto the work programme. I’ve was full of hope and optimism. It quickly drained away. As soon as I told my advisor about my record, they pretty much told me I’d never find an employer than was willing to give me a chance, and that I may as well just do enough that’s needed to keep me receiving my benefits!

This paints quite a bad picture, I know. I guess what I’m keen to be clear about is that I’m somebody who wants to work. I don’t want to be claiming benefits. I’m willing to take anything. I don’t think I fit the mould of being ‘work-shy’ and picky about the work I do – I just want people to look beyond my criminal record.

The Job Centre and Work Programme should be there to help me do that – words fail me when trying to describe how much I feel let down by the people who are there to help me. Organisations like Unlock do a fantastic job, but it’s not the job of a small charity to find work for the 10 million people in the UK who have a criminal record. The Job Centre and Work Programme need to step up to the plate! I’ve suggested to both my job centre work coach and my work programme advisor that they go on the Unlock training on disclosure – I’ll wait and see if they know what they’re talking about the next time I see them!

By Andy* (name & details changed to protect identity)

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