Back to work after long-term unemployment


Julie Mills had been out of work for 20 years and felt her life was “a wreck” after her father died. A carer who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, she had low self-esteem, was in a rut and badly need a change.

Through a scheme designed to help people with mental health problems and disabilities back into work she has managed to make that change for the better and now works for M & S.

Mums with disabilities or mental health problems face additional problems finding jobs, which can lead to a cycle of low confidence. Research shows a strong link between long-term unemployment and depression, which can create a vicious circle for those seeking to find work.

Social policy researchers says that the longer someone is unemployed, the less likely they are to ever return to work.

Marks & Start is a work placement programme which helps people who face extra barriers getting into work. The three key groups the programme is aimed at are: single parents, people with disabilities or health conditions and people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Those accepted onto the programme receive coaching and support and a two- or four-week placement in an M&S store. There they get a buddy to help them get back into work and follow-up support.

The programme’s partners include disability employment specialists Remploy who have helped to place some 2,500 people over the last six years.


Mills is a carer for her grandfather and a mother of four. She says the trigger for action came after her father died and she felt her life went “out of control”.

Remploy’s office in Porth in Wales helped prepare her to return to work.  They gave her job coaching support and she took part in development sessions and one-to-one training before getting two short-term contracts at an M & S store in Llantrisant. She has recently been offered a permanent job as a customer assistant and transferred to a new M&S store in Merthyr Tydfil.

“Working at M&S gave me the chance to feel more independent and better in myself,” she says. “I still get days when I feel tired due my OCD, but it is more under control and I can leave things for another day which I couldn’t before I started work.”

Julie’s children are aged six to 20. She adds: “I feel like I am finally doing something for myself rather than for others which I have done all my life.”


Eliese Bull was Remploy’s 2,000th recruit. She got a job as a bakery assistant at M & S’ Simply Food store in Camden, north London.

Eliese had been unemployed for two years and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. “I worked for 10 years as a healthcare assistant, but had to give up when my daughter was born three years ago,” she says. “I was desperate to get back to work but I lacked confidence and started to doubt that any employer would want to take me on.”

Eliese was referred to Remploy and took part in a Marks & Spencer development session, which led to a job at the Camden store where she works full time.

Eliese has to start work at 5am, but says what matters to her is having a job. “I don’t mind having to be up early. The important thing is I have a job I enjoy and I am happy again. I’ve regained my financial independence and have made many new friends. Life couldn’t be better.”

Mother of four Paula Jacob also suffered from depression and stress as a result of being out of work for a year. Because she is blind in one eye she was unable to apply for certain jobs. Remploy helped her with her job search and she did a Marks & Spencer day course.

That led to a two-week work placement in London at an M&S store in London Bridge. She had two buddies who helped her. Within a month of the placement

Paula got a permanent role as a customer assistant at the store. “I look forward to going to work,” she says, adding that the programme “enables disabled people like myself who lack confidence and have low self-esteem to realise their potential”.  “It has been a life-changing experience,” she says.

*For more information, contact Remploy.


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