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Recovering addicts can make loyal and highly motivated workers

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 Recovering addicts can make loyal and highly motivated workers

Influential businessman and chief executive of Barclays, John Varley, has said that companies must do more to employ former crack and heroin users.

Varley believes that companies have an important part to play in helping former users on the road to recovery. As the president of the Employers’ Forum on Disability and the UK Drug Policy Commission, the independent body that collects evidence on the harm caused by drugs, Varley calls for companies not to turn their back on recovering addicts even during the economic downturn.

“It might seem like an unusual time to be asking ourselves how we can do more to engage with disadvantaged groups, such as recovering drug users or the homeless,” he writes. “But they should remain on our mind because if, as employers, we turn our backs on these groups we are accumulating problems for the future, with implications for the long-term recovery of both individuals and the economy” , he said.

These comments are likely to trigger a debate regarding the employment of former drug addicts. It is estimated that there are around 400,000 heroin and crack users in the UK today, 80% of which are not in employment. Of those it is estimated that 240,000 of them are receiving out-of-work benefits such as jobseeker’s allowance or incapacity benefit. The number of former addicts in the UK is still unknown.

Nevertheless, John Varley strongly believes that former users can make very good employees. “Research from Business Action on Homelessness and the UK Drug Policy Commission shows that, despite common perceptions, many homeless people and those with a history of addiction are highly motivated to work (and most have worked), and their loyalty and commitment is typically very noticeable,” he says.

“That’s because, for them, it is not just a job but a real indication that they are getting their lives back on track. A job can provide a new identity, a new social circle and increased self-esteem - in short, a fresh start.”

Of course some people will doubt the merits of giving jobs to former users at a time when unemployment is rising significantly, but Varley claims there are benefits from making a commitment to the most vulnerable in society.

“During an economic downturn (but particularly a severe one like this) there is a risk that we simply adopt a ‘charity begins at home’ stance, and shift our focus away from those on the margins of society. Yet I have seen first hand the real benefits (both for employer and employee) for those who are prepared to hire suitable candidates from the widest possible pools of talent (including the disadvantaged).”

Leading drug charities have supported and backed Varley’s comments. “We hope that it encourages other employers to recognise that they can help someone sustain recovery from addiction and in the process acquire loyal employees,” said Nick Barton, chief executive of Action on Addiction.

“Work has been shown to be an important component of rehabilitation and reintegration into society, helping to reduce the incidence of relapse. We have a number of positive examples from our Working Recovery programme, which has been helping people for more than 10 years.”

The programme provides a bridge between treatment and recovery by teaching vocational skills.

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