This guest blog from Mike Trace, Chief Executive Officer of The Forward Trust introduces a new campaign which aims to reduce the stigma around employing people with criminal records by sharing the personal stories of people who have successfully turned their lives around. He’s calling on Clinks members to help spread the word, contribute to these conversations and get involved in the campaign.
We all know that a person can often be judged on their past, particularly if they have spent time in prison. The statistics on post-offending employment speak for themselves in this respect:
- Ex-offenders and people in recovery are the two groups that employers are least likely to recruit, with one in four people in recovery having been turned down for jobs three times or more by disclosing their past
- 75% of prisoners have no job on release even though having a job is the single biggest factor in reducing re-offending. 15% of prisoners have never worked legally and 47% of prisoners have no qualifications.
The Forward Trust is challenging the stigma associated with those who have a background of crime or a history of addiction by launching, on 26th September, a national campaign called More Than My Past.
This ambitious campaign is raising awareness of the potential for ex-offenders and people in recovery to turn their lives around – breaking down the barriers that prevent people with difficult pasts from reaching their full potential and inspiring those who are still trapped in cycles of addiction or crime. We aim to change attitudes across the board – from policy makers to employers, landlords and the general public.
The More Than My Past website showcases the inspirational stories of people who have successfully confronted their problems around addiction and/or criminality and moved on to prosper in their personal and professional lives. This campaign shows that ex-offenders and people in recovery from addiction not only want to change and succeed – they can and do!
We are calling on the government, employers and the general public to share our belief in people’s capacity for recovery and rehabilitation, to celebrate their stories of achievement against adversity, and to take action to support this agenda.
The Forward Trust is supported in the campaign by a number of employers who believe in giving people another chance as a potential new pool of talent in these challenging times, with Brexit looming and organisations rapidly realising they need to seek out new avenues to meet their requirements. Indeed, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 70% of employers with vacancies said that at least some of those were proving hard-to-fill in Autumn 2018, compared to 51% in Spring 2017.
The campaign demonstrates to other employers that individuals who have successfully recovered from addiction or who are rehabilitated ex-offenders are a worthy investment if given the opportunity to prove themselves.
Catering company and food retailer COOK, retail service provider Timpson and transport social enterprise HCT Group are among those already embracing the opportunity to work with such traditionally marginalised groups of people as they know how rewarding it can be for both the business and the individuals. The values of these companies match our own and they have the same unshakeable belief that people are capable of transformational change.
“People are at the heart of what we do at COOK. People’s past doesn’t matter to us, but their future really does! We believe that everyone has the potential to be remarkable. Our RAW Talent programme supports people with criminal convictions, and other barriers to employment, into sustainable, meaningful work. We are learning so much as a company from RAW Talent, and would wholeheartedly recommend others to get involved. ‘More than my Past’ is really close to our heart. We’re delighted to support the campaign.” – Annie Gale, RAW Talent Manager, COOK
We know that, if we show a belief in people’s ability to make a positive change, and give them the opportunity to prove themselves, they can do amazing things. We back up this belief, as The Forward Trust lives its mission by aiming to have a high proportion of all our staff, apprentices and volunteers having ‘lived experience’ – either a history of drug/alcohol problems or of offending. Currently, 33% of our 400 salaried staff, 100% of our 20 apprentices, and 80% of our 150 volunteers, report that they are in one of these categories. We want the general public and employers to share our belief in this untapped potential and do something to support people to be more than their past.
“I was 21 years old, 8 ½ stone at 6 foot tall, hadn’t washed myself or my clothes for weeks, and homeless. The veins in my arms were dissipating from injecting. I was shoplifting daily to fuel my crack and heroin addiction. I had abandoned the human inside me – feeling worthless with no sense of hope. I now realise that addiction was a reflection of the trauma I experienced as a child and drugs were a way for me to bear my suffering.
This was my 35th arrest and nobody before had ever sat me down and asked why I was doing this or offered any understanding to the obsessive self-destruction I was trapped in. Prison was a safe haven because no one could hurt me more than I could hurt myself.
Everything then changed for me when a kind solicitor who could relate to my addiction saw and spoke to what was left of the humanity in me and then I went on The Forward Trust’s intensive, abstinence-based rehabilitation programme during my prison sentence. The programme reinforced that I was not alone.
Following rehabilitation, I got work on a building site and then later a job with a fostering agency, a cause that was very close to my heart having been a child in care myself. With a lot of commitment, I worked my way up to National Project Development Officer whilst also playing a part in the international movement on deinstitutionalisation of care for looked after children on a global level, travelling around the world for work.
I have now finished a social work degree with a First-Class Honours. I am also the Patron for British Association of Social Work – England (BASW) and present regularly at seminars, including a talk for Tedx. I am also just about to start a Masters degree in Research Design and Methodology at Oxford University. Most importantly, I am six years in recovery and living a life I barely dared to dream of.”
How Clinks members can help
We’ve assembled lots of powerful stories from people from all walks of life. Now we need to get everyone talking about people’s ability to turn their lives around – and inspire others to share their experiences and seek help.
This is where you come in! You can help spread the word to your social media networks and email contacts. By proudly showing your support, sharing these stories, and even your own experiences, you can encourage others to get behind the campaign – and help break down those stereotypes and stigmas that are preventing more people from realising their potential.
Read Ian’s full story, and those of many others, at www.morethanmypast.org.uk and join the conversation on social media:
- Facebook: /MTMPStories
- Twitter: @morethanmypast
- Instagram: morethanmypast_stories
Notes from the Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group (RR3) Special Interest Group on Covid-19
Latest on Twitter
We are extremely disappointed that the JCVI advice on phase 2 of the COVID vaccination programme does not prioritise people in prison and those who work with them, including voluntary sector staff and volunteers https://gov.uk/government/publications/priority-groups-for-phase-2-of-the-coronavirus-covid-19-vaccination-programme-advice-from-the-jcvi/jcvi-interim-statement-on-phase-2-of-the-covid-19-vaccination-programme