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Last Updated: Monday, 23 January 2006, 16:55 GMT
Gissa job - I can do that
By Ian Pollock
BBC personal finance reporter

Bernard Hill as Yosser Hughes in The Boys from the Blackstuff
Yosser Hughes might find it easier getting a job nowadays
As Yosser Hughes highlighted in the early 80s TV drama The Boys from the Blackstuff, getting a job is hard when you are already out of work.

That has not changed much in the last 20 years or so.

And the longer you are out of work the harder it is.

Alan Johnson, the current Trade Secretary, acknowledged a universal truth during a Parliamentary debate in February 2005:

"There is a lot of evidence of discrimination by employers, especially against people with mental illness," he said at the time.

"That is on top of the huge discrimination that has gone on for years against people who are physically disabled...the inherent and underlying prejudices continue to exist."

That is one reason why the Government launched its Pathways to Work scheme in October 2003.

Starting with three pilot districts, now being expanded to a total of 21 areas this year, the scheme, managed through job centres, tries to give people on Incapacity Benefit (IB) extra help to find employment again.

The early evidence is encouraging.

According to a Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) report published this year, the number of people coming off IB seems to have increased in the first pilot areas.

And there has also been a reduction in the number of people claiming IB as well.

Employers' experiences?

In the Derbyshire area, Carol Brooke is in charge of recruiting 100-200 staff every year for three hotels in the Marriott chain.

As director of human resources she is always in need of people for jobs in hotel housekeeping and their kitchens, bars and restaurants.

We are reaching a pool of potential recruits that we weren't reaching before
Gillian Tarelli, recruitment manager, npower

She says the Pathways to Work project has been very successful: "The number of people unemployed has been going down but those on incapacity benefit has been rising. So we have targeted a different group to look for more suitable applicants."

Potential recruits are first screened at the Job Centre Plus.

Carol's verdict on those she eventually interviews?

"All the people we have seen have been excellent candidates. We haven't seen a person we wouldn't offer a job to. They are a pool of potential employees we weren't aware of before."

So successful has this been that Carol now no longer advertises jobs in the local papers and simply uses the Job Centre Plus instead.

'Fantastic move'

Over in Newton Heath in Manchester, Mark Whalen recruits and manages staff for the huge Danish facilities company ISS.

35% have mental health problems but not serious psychotic illness.
22% have musculo-skeletal problems - mainly low back and neck pain.
11% have high blood pressure, angina or chronic bronchitis.
Source: DWP

Among many other things, it takes on contracts to clean and maintain trains and railway stations here in the UK.

To get staff across the North West of England Mark liaises closely with job centres.

He welcomes the Pathways to Work pilot because it mirrors the approach he has been taking anyway: "I was shocked that people aren't given a chance, I think it's a fantastic move."

Mark says he makes a point of going out of his way to employ staff who have some apparent disability.

"I've recruited, over the last three years, a dozen people with learning difficulties or physical difficulties. I have employed nine out of the 10 people I've seen. Other employers should take a leaf out of my book."

Life skills

Low unemployment and the consequent difficulty in recruiting good staff is helping to drive the interest of some employers in taking on those who have been claiming IB.

At Peterlee in the North East of England, two npower call centres sit on an industrial estate alongside eight others run by rival employers.

The firm's recruitment manager for the North East of England, Gillian Tarelli, doesn't hide the fact that the she faces competition: "We are all fighting for the same type of people that we want," she says. "We are reaching a pool of potential recruits that we weren't reaching before."

Person looking for work at a Job Centre Plus in London
Many jobseekers still face discrimination

Npower has only just started trying to recruit though the Pathways scheme.

But Gillian thinks she may now be able to tap into a pool of labour with particular skills: "We want good communication and life skills. Some may have worked as nurses, for instance, and maybe put their backs out - but they may have a lot of skills and can show empathy with our customers."

Core jobless

The initial success of the Pathways to Work scheme may be due to its focus on recent IB claimants.

There is a long way to go to eradicate negative attitudes about the ability or willingness of the long term sick to work.

Last October the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) published a survey of employers attitudes to the "core jobless."

A third of those questioned admitted that they deliberately exclude job applicants with a history of long term illness or incapacity, mainly on grounds of reliability and fear of future absences due to illness.

According to the CIPD's economist John Philpott, this wariness is a significant obstacle: "Most claimants have been on it for a long period of time.

"It is towards those people that employers have negative attitudes, because they fear there has been a deterioration of skills or there will be a lack of the work habit."

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