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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 January 2006, 08:40 GMT
'My mental illness puts bosses off'
Wheelchair user at computer terminal
The government wants those who can work to get off benefits
The government is unveiling plans to get thousands of people - including many with mental illnesses - off incapacity benefit and into work.

Ministers hope the changes will improve lives as well as save money, but how easy will it be for mentally ill people to find work?

Bruce Murray says he would love to get a job but has been unable to get off incapacity benefit because of the mental illness he has suffered from for more than 20 years.

The 41-year-old from Elland, West Yorkshire, was diagnosed with schizophrenia after suffering a serious breakdown at the age of 17.

This was followed by a spell in hospital and several other breakdowns over the years.

Side effects

While his condition is now under control, he has found it impossible to get paid work. He has to have an injection of drugs to control his schizophrenia once a fortnight, which turns him "more or less back to normal" but the medication has side effects which make working difficult.

He takes other medication to temper the side-effects but still suffers from shaking, extreme tiredness and flu-like symptoms.

Despite his illness, Mr Murray has consistently tried to get work and enrolled on several education and training programmes.

After leaving hospital after his first breakdown in the 1980s, Mr Murray spent time in a rehabilitation unit before getting work for a firm which employed disabled people.

Bruce Murray
Bruce Murray was told it was "too risky" for him to become a teacher"

He worked there for two years but left after suffering another breakdown. In any case, the firm did not pay him enough to live on, he said.

After enrolling in an adult training scheme, he quickly realised his illness meant that, no matter what his qualifications, the only work likely to be open to him was low paid jobs such as washing up in kitchens.

He has since taken A Levels and completed an Open University degree in human geography and has undertaken various forms of unpaid and voluntary work.

Among them was a work placement at the Citizens Advice Bureau, helping with administration.

He says he enjoys working - even unpaid work - as it gives him something to do.

Wary employers

He says: "People who say we all like sitting at home are wrong. It's fine for a month or two but after that it's pure hell."

But he says: "I've never actually got to the stage where someone would take me on for paid employment.

"The reason they give usually is that I'm on this medication. I've been to lots of interviews and what kept coming up is the mental health problem."

He says he went into education because he couldn't find work, but has now realised there are few jobs open to him despite his qualifications.

We're the wrong target. What we've got to do is change the attitude of employers rather than those on incapacity benefit
Bruce Murray

"When I finished my degree I thought I might become a teacher myself.

"But they wrote back saying it was far too risky. So there are limitations on the types of job you can apply for. It's not because of your abilities, it's because of society's attitude.

"Qualifications actually make matters worse for people like me because, for the sorts of jobs available to us, having an education makes it harder to find work. I'm over-qualified. A lot of employers see that as a problem."

Neither is it easy to live on incapacity benefit.

Mr Murray says: "Right now I've got 50 pence to last me until Wednesday when I get my benefit.

'Trouble ahead'

"We've got to be really careful with it and budget. If I was to get ill again I wouldn't be able to manage that at all."

All the same, he predicts problems for the government if it tries to force the mentally-ill off benefits and into work without the necessary help.

He says life would come so difficult for some people that they would rather stop taking their medication and be re-admitted to mental hospitals.

And he believes efforts to get mentally-ill people back to work will fail unless attitudes in the rest of society change.

He says: "We're the wrong target. What we've got to do is change the attitude of employers rather than those on incapacity benefit. Employers need educating."

And he accepts that the time when a schizophrenic will be welcomed into the workplace the same as any other employee is a long way off.

"I appreciate that 20 years ago people like me were in hospital but I think it will be another 20 years before people like me can fully live in the community and work."


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