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Robert Elston
Chief Executive of Status Employment
Robert  Elston

You don't need to run a mile when someone with schizophrenia applies for a job

Authors: Robert Elston Robert Elston, Chief Executive of Status Employment

11 February 2013

Disabled people in today’s world appear to be increasingly demonised as shirkers and wasters; spongers off the state. Yet the reality in so many cases could not be more different. Many of the disabled wanting work find that very little help is given by those employed by the government to do so;  none more so than individuals living with psychosis; particularly those with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Recent data released by DWP showed that just over 1,000 of the 68,000 ESA claimants referred to the Work Programme had sustained work for over three months with figures for people with schizophrenia being considerably worse.

A reality for many employers and welfare to work providers informed by the many lurid press headlines associated with schizophrenia is to distance themselves from such individuals. As the Chief Executive of Status Employment, I understand their feelings but would like to challenge that perception by proposing a model that demonstrably works in delivering real employment to this group of individuals.

The first thing to address is the scary myth that surrounds psychosis and to support employers to see such individuals as real people with real skills and the realistic aspiration of a normalised life. As an organisation we have always been a Supported Employment Agency and as such it is incumbent upon us to explain the quality of service that employers should receive in this difficult area to enable them to take the managed risk of employing someone with a diagnosis of psychosis. 

We believe that the most important thing is to treat the individual with respect in order to get to know them, realistically raising the individual’s expectations whilst challenging them in appropriate ways. In this way we are able to determine an individual’s skills and strengths to help them realise their aspirations and desires through employment. Individuals have to learn how to overcome the enormity  of disclosing their psychosis; how to project a positive understanding of how they are able to manage their disability with the help of  the  reasonable adjustments that can be made and the support that can be put in place for themselves and potential employers when they get a job offer.

With potential employers we undertake a thorough job analysis on the proposed job; explain how we will support both them and their staff in making the reasonable adjustments needed in helping the individual living with mental health issues to become a valued employee. Status Employment supports both the employer and individual long term to make a sustained outcome a reality.

This method is not new and although evidence based for many years has unfortunately few adherents today. However, all is not doom and gloom. We at Status Employment believe that the Work Programme can be part of the answer. We are delighted that one brave prime provider has recognised that specialist services may be the way forward and has entered into a small pilot with us to help candidates with severe and enduring mental health needs who want to work access to our specialist services that we believe are needed to help both the employer and the candidate overcome multiple barriers to employment. So next time a potential employee with schizophrenia applies for a job, please don’t run a mile but ask about their skills and access the available support. To ensure they can be an asset to your business or organisation. 

Robert Elston is Chief Executive of Status Employment and the Vice President of the European Union of Supported Employment