There are many people who, as youths, picked up convictions for minor offences. However, having worked hard to gain an education and contribute to society, they find themselves in a similar situation to Tom – being judged by employers who only see them as a safeguarding risk.
As a young lad I was the class clown; the one that never went to class, never did my exams and eventually got expelled – it was classed as ‘early study leave’ at that time. With few qualifications I worked in factories for a while and then decided to go and work abroad for several months.
I really enjoyed the time I spent overseas and I started to plan for all the things I was going to do in the future. However, when I returned home I pretty much went back to my previous behaviours. It became a very common occurrence to get arrested for various ‘petty’ offences – drunk and disorderly, possession of cannabis progressing to possession of cocaine, criminal damage and battery.
For the best part of five years I never claimed a penny in benefits, was employed throughout and always paid into ‘the system’. I began to change my life around properly about 3.5 years ago when I realised that the time had come to seek help from a substance misuse service. The help I received was priceless and I soon began to volunteer for the service myself.
I really enjoyed volunteering; it helped me personally, but I was also getting some good feedback from clients that I was working with. I started to apply for trainee roles with the company and eventually I was offered an 18-month temporary contract with them.
I knew this was the field I wanted to work in, but I didn’t just want a job, I wanted a career. I went to night school to do a GCSE in English and then I enrolled for a degree course with the Open University. I’m now in my second year and considering that I’ve not done any form of studying for years and years. I’m doing OK. As well as the success in my career, I’ve now got my own place to live, I’ve got a car and even a dog and I regularly raise money for charity.
However, for all the positive stuff that I’ve done, I’ve just realised that it’s impossible to escape your past. A few days ago, I had a fantastic interview at a local care home; I’d really gelled with the manager and I was quietly confident that I’d be offered the job. I’d been asked to call into the care home to pick up some documents and I thought this was a really good sign.
When I arrived, the manager seemed a bit different to how he’d been at the interview and asked me to come into his office. He then said:
We have a problem. I’ve discussed your criminal record disclosure with HR and we’re unable to take your application any further. The company believe that you could be a safeguarding risk.”
I could feel my eyes starting to fill with tears. Even though my last conviction had been approved 9 years before, I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I’d made drastic changes to better myself and I wanted to continue to do so. I found it difficult to understand how I could be penalised for something that I’d done so long ago.
I’ve made such an effort to conform, to behave and be part of “the system” yet that system is stopping me from doing so. Because I’ve got several convictions and I want to work in regulated activity, I’m always going to need to disclose the details of my past.
It’s clear to me that the UK system of rehabilitation and criminal record disclosure isn’t working and is one that urgently needs addressing.
By Tom (name changed to protect identity)
Comment from Unlock
Back in January 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that two aspects of the current filtering regime were disproportionate and in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, namely the way multiple convictions and childhood cautions are dealt with.
We hope that it’s not too long before changes are made to the system and that people like Tom will be able to leave his past in the past.
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