Garth Harkness writes to Manchester Mayor

Liberal Democrat Councillor Garth Harkness wrote the following letter to Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham:

Congratulations on being elected Greater Manchester’s first Mayor.

I am sure you are aware that this week is Refugee Week.

On behalf of the Oldham Council Liberal Democrat Group, I would like to raise with you the issue of the support we offer in Greater Manchester to refugees seeking employment and how we could enhance it.

As you will be aware, refugees are former asylum seekers whose claims to remain and work in the UK have been allowed by the Home Office.

Refugees in Greater Manchester want to work, but experience unemployment on a scale hugely disproportionate to the wider population.

According to research published by the Manchester Refugee Employment Partnership in 2013, at that time the unemployment rate within Greater Manchester’s refugee communities was 44% compared to the national unemployment rate of 7.7%.

Refugees have full employment rights in the UK, but describe a bewildering and confusing job market that feels impossible to break into or progress within.

It is truly tragic that such a group of people, who come from appalling circumstances, remain marginalised without the opportunity to make an economic contribution to our society or to make a better life for themselves and their families here. This creates challenges around community cohesion, impacts on the individual’s well-being and mental health, and forces them to remain in poverty, dependent on benefits.

Last year, the Policy Advisor and Researcher from the Liberal Democrat Group met several times with frontline staff from the charity Refugee Action. These staff each had a caseload comprising refugees living in the borough.

From these conversations, it was identified that in Oldham many refugees seeking work are single and better educated, including professionals such as teachers

Issues for refugees living in Oldham in securing employment are:

  • A lack of references
  • Inexperience at interviews. Many refugees are poor interview performers, with an inability to ‘sell’ or self-market themselves
  • A lack of IT training. There is also a lack of specialist software packages in appropriate languages, and some courses are not accredited
  • ESOL training is not sufficiently focused on employment, and not long enough; nor are spouses eligible for free ESOL training
  • A lack of access to interpreters
  • Existing job-search support provision can be inaccessible if the jobseeker has poor English language skills
  • High levels of mental ill-health, but physical disability is less prevalent
  • Asylum seekers can volunteer, but need opportunities in which to do so

These issues are not exclusive to Oldham and will apply in other parts of Greater Manchester.

From these discussions, proposals were developed that could constitute an action plan for Greater Manchester:

  • Providing specialist training in the needs of refugees for front-line advisors, Refugee Action runs two courses (Refugee Awareness and Understanding Refugees)
  • Creating a toolkit for these advisors identifying local provision to which refugees can be referred
  • Creating a simple leaflet with relevant basic information and contacts about local provision, including straplines in appropriate community languages, for asylum seekers and refugees
  • Creating similar materials for inclusion in the packs issued to new UK Citizens
  • Reviewing the ESOL and IT provision on offer from the adult learning providers across Greater Manchester to ensure that these are sufficiently jobs-focused, accredited and in case of IT supported by specialist software packages in the right languages
  • Developing a volunteering programme for asylum seekers
  • Reviewing the provision of interpreters, with the possibility of recruiting students at local colleges and universities speaking appropriate languages as volunteers
  • Establishing a bespoke employability course for refugee jobseekers. The Manchester Refugee Employment Project ran the ‘Welcome to the UK Job Market’ course.
  • Establishing some specialist work club provision based at appropriate community venues used by refugees
  • Identifying Greater Manchester employers who are willing to offer refugees employment, work placements, volunteering opportunities, or employee mentoring
  • Asking Greater Manchester Councils and other public sector partners by commit themselves to becoming ‘refugee friendly’ employers

I believe that these represent a solid set of practical proposals that if implemented across Greater Manchester will help make our city region an exemplar borough for refugee employment.

I understand that employment matters come under the remit of Cllr Sean Anstee, Chairman of the Greater Manchester Skills & Employment Partnership, so I am sending him a copy of this letter.

I look forward to hearing from you of progress in due course and thank you for giving these ideas your serious consideration.

Yours Sincerely,

Councillor Garth Harkness,

Shadow Cabinet Member for Employment and Skills,

Oldham Council

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