Recovering drug users ‘stigmatised’ by employers

Recovering drug users will remain unemployed unless there are “radical measures” to change the attitude of employers, according to research published today.

Eighty per cent of those in drug treatment are unemployed, despite evidence that working increases the chance of successful drugs treatment, the UK Drugs Policy Commission found.

Two thirds of employers surveyed by UKDPC said that they would refuse to employ a former heroin or crack cocaine user, even if they were “otherwise suitable for the job”.

Financial incentives     

Employers are anxious about the perceived risks of working with drug users, and many hold “negative, stereotypical perceptions” about them, the research found. However, those who had worked with drug users reported a positive experience.

The research suggested that financial incentives may be necessary to encourage employers to take on recovering drug users. These could include tax or national insurance breaks, or the offer of legal protection to employers in the case of need for cover or re-employment.

Jeremy Hardie, UKDPC Commissioner, said: “Welfare sanctions and support alone are not enough to get recovering drug users into work. As unemployment levels rise, the problem of engaging employers with this group will become even more acute.”

Other suggestions included changing the rules regarding benefits, so that it is no longer mandatory for drugs users to engage with treatment in order to receive them.

Need for rigorous evaluation       

The commission also supported the introduction of individual, multi-agency, treatment care plans for all recovering drug users and called for improved accommodation to support recovery and rehabilitation.

It also criticised the lack of evaluation of current initiatives, such as the government run “progress2work” programme. Last year 20 % of the 13,000 who entered this scheme found work, but the report said that without rigorous evaluation, both good practice and mistakes are overlooked.

Martin Barnes, chief executive of charity DrugScope,called on the government to do more to encourage employers to work with recovering drug users. He said: “Getting an individual ‘fit for work’ is only half the story. To finish the job and get recovering drug users into work, a receptive labour market is essential. Employers need more support to make this a reality.”

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