Unemployment has permanently damaging effects. How can we tackle this? 
 
When discussing refugee resettlement, we often highlight the value of employment as a route to integration and independence. We know that moving people into work is important for personal development and for thriving communities: but is this understating the human cost of the issue? 
 
To look at it from a different angle, what is the damage of not getting people into sustainable employment? 
 
An analysis of 99 economic studies identifies that unemployment leaves permanent mental scars. It has detrimental effects regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or any other factor. The difficulty that refugees face in gaining sustainable employment means that after the traumatic experiences they have already endured, thousands of people are being subjected to further mental stress. 
 
This year, the University of Oxford published research that shows refugees are 14% less likely to be in employment than those who migrated to the UK for work reasons. For those in employment, the limitations on progression mean that living standards are still low, with refugees earning 42% less per week than those who migrated for work reasons – 76% less than those native to the UK – and most staying at entry level in the long term. 
 
Tackling this problem is not simply a case of charitable assistance; it is a necessity for ensuring mental well-being. Arguably, it is part of our responsibility as outlined in the 1951 Refugee Convention, which states that refugees’ treatment should be as favourable as that of other foreign nationals – and in some cases, of UK nationals – when it comes to working in this country. 
 
Put simply, the Convention states not only that host countries must provide basic rights to refugees, but that they should also give ‘sympathetic consideration’ to their situation and opportunities. The mismatch between refugees’ employment situation and that of other foreign nationals shows that this consideration is not being given. 
 
The current political situation adds another element of urgency to the issue. The UK is now dependent on the success of its social and economic policies to reduce skills gaps, increase productivity and deliver inclusive growth in a post-Brexit world. Refugees represent an under-utilised labour force, totalling an estimated 120,000 individuals with skills that can be re-purposed for the UK labour market with targeted interventions. The refugee, non-EU labour force can fill many of the gaps that will occur as our EU labour force is restricted. 
 
With such a huge opportunity available, how can we make the most of it, and ensure these skilled individuals meet their full potential? 
 
Maximising refugees’ potential with #rethinkingrefugee 
Training for English and employability is one way to prepare refugees to join the UK workforce, but this alone is unlikely to bring about progression from low-pay jobs – and long courses themselves may even have damaging effects. A system-wide approach to progressing refugees towards quality jobs is more likely to bring about improvement in earnings, well-being and training outcomes. 
 
This is the approach taken by ACH through our #rethinkingrefugee programme. Having started as a campaign to change the negative perceptions and rhetoric surrounding refugees, #rethinkingrefugee has since evolved into our overarching dialogue, encapsulating all aspects of our work. It is a maximum-impact programme that transitions refugees onto career pathways, by using entry-level jobs as a bridge. 
 
Inclusivity within the local labour market can only be ensured by unlocking each individual’s skills and talents. To do this, #rethinkingrefugee uses effective assessment to determine the transformation that is required, and tailors a programme specific to each individual. 
 
This is the mechanism that determines how and when the individual can return to the labour market, and at what level they will become re-employed. It serves to secure the individual’s expectations, relative to local opportunity, within a framework of continual learning. 
 
At the same time, it ensures for the employer that any individual from a #rethinkingrefugee cohort is able to function productively within the employed role, and is a candidate for employer investment. 
 
In a £32M programme, #rethinkingrefugee will help to bring 25,000 non-EU employees to the labour market over the next 10 years. This will add approximately £250M to the GVA of the West Midlands and the West of England combined authorities, by realising the assets of refugees who are currently either unemployed or languishing in low-pay, low-skill jobs. 
 
As a growth, skills and productivity enabler for the employer, #rethinkingrefugee provides a solution for both refugees and businesses. 
 
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