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Refugee under-employment, a practical response

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By Jen Gordon, Social Investment and Innovation Advisor

We continue to live in a country where neurosurgeons have to claim benefits, where engineers drive us around London in the back of their cabs and where lawyers face exploitation through informal work. It may sound ridiculous but with the barriers faced by refugees to requalify into their previous profession, it’s sadly very much a reality. 

To tackle this problem we’re delighted to be investing alongside the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in RefuAid, an organisation that supports access to language tuition, education, finance and meaningful employment for refugees in the UK. 

RefuAid recognised that a significant barrier for refugees getting into highly-skilled work in the UK was access to finance to fund requalification costs so came up with a very practical solution, the equal access loan programme. The first and only of its kind in the UK.

The team at RefuAid assess each individual’s language needs and requalification potential and create a tailored learning plan for them, as well as offering an interest free loan of up to £10,000 over four years for them to be able to achieve their goal. Recipients then pay back the loan in small manageable chunks throughout the four years. 

The statistics speak for themselves. 

Of the 94 current loan recipients, 61% had a postgraduate qualification prior to arriving in the UK, 24% had an undergraduate qualification and the remainder held Diplomas in their field. The average salary for an individual before they receive the loan is currently £7,494 per annum, whereas the average salary post requalification is £35,608, a huge increase!

We’re supporting RefuAid’s brilliant work by giving then an interest free loan of £210,000 through our Red Shed Fund, which is focused on using repayable finance to support organisations dedicated to positive social change. They will then on-lend this money to refugees through the loan programme, returning repayments to Comic Relief after 4.5 years. 

The equal access loan programme is an incredibly simple and pragmatic approach which is filling a vital gap in services and we are really excited about the potential of this work as it grows.