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UK employers keen to get behind refugees

As the refugee crisis in Afghanistan continues to unfold, 20,000 Afghan refugees are set to arrive in the UK over the next five years. They will join the estimated 374,000 refugees already here, who are four times more likely to be unemployed and in need of direct support. *  In response to this, new research from Grant Thornton UK LLP’s latest Business Outlook Tracker** shows that UK businesses are keen to get behind refugees.  

62% of the 601 businesses surveyed are open to the idea of hiring refugees, in fact just over half have already done so and 51% are saying they are likely to hire in the next 12 months.  But many also say that they lack confidence with 40% saying they need additional support to recruit refugees.

With the number of job vacancies continuing to reach record highs across nearly all sectors (ONS, 18 Jan), there are clear opportunities for businesses to collaborate to address refugee unemployment and simultaneously address skills shortages. The refugee community has been disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic too, with nearly one in five refugees who were in work prior to the pandemic reporting they had lost their jobs, significantly higher than 5% of people who had lost their jobs by October 2020 in the UK overall. *** 

However, the research found the top motivations that businesses cite for hiring refugees are supporting the diversity and inclusion agenda, responding to Afghanistan and other refugee crises and being socially responsible.  Employers’ main concerns regarding refugee recruitment are cultural barriers, how to access the refugee talent pool, and how to manage the legal right to work for refugees.

Breaking Barriers is a charity whose mission is to help refugees acquire the knowledge, confidence, and experience to get stable, fulfilling employment. The charity has supported over 1,300 people of refugee background – 50% of whom have achieved their goal of entering employment, education, training, or volunteering. Breaking Barriers works with over 30 businesses to support them to hire and support refugees and runs the Fuse network, a collective united in the common goal to improve the lives of refugees through meaningful and sustainable employment through the business community. 

Matthew Powell, CEO and Founder of Breaking Barriers said: 

“We know that refugees in the UK can and want work. They want to fulfil their potential and integrate into their new home through employment that matches their skills, experience, and aspirations. For businesses, hiring refugees brings huge value, addressing skills gaps, nurturing a diverse and inclusive workplace, and enhancing social impact by solving real barriers to employment. “We know businesses want to step-up and play their part. However, we also recognise that navigating the support and hiring of refugees can feel daunting and complex – but it doesn’t need to be, so we’re here to help.”

Karen Higgins, Head of Sustainability at Grant Thornton UK LLP said:

“Having had no prior experience of working with refugees we became one of Breaking Barriers founding partners in January 2018, and since that time have managed work placements and 15 employability workshops with over 270 attendees covering a range of topics including networking and interview skills.

“Working with people during these workshops has highlighted the quality of talent out there.  Our first full-time refugee placement was a huge success and gave the individual the much-needed confidence to secure a permanent role in the education sector. Our first permanent hire into the business arrived following another successful placement.  Although the current circumstances have made this work more difficult, we have recently directly hired another Breaking Barriers client into the firm.”

Breaking Barriers can work with businesses to identify the right opportunities, but here’s where to start to get your ‘Business Behind Refugees’: 

  • Donate – invest in Breaking Barriers work so we can scale up, respond, and expand our employment and education programmes to the incoming Afghan community and to address the growing need and challenges refugees face. 
  • Hire refugees – offer recruitment pathways and job opportunities to unlock refugee potential. You can join our refugee work placement programme and access our diverse talent pool. Breaking Barriers’ Fuse Action Plan will help guide you through this. 
  • Volunteer – Breaking Barriers are actively seeking to increase the number of Pashto, Dari and Farsi speaking volunteers who support our work, as well as those who can offer their skills and expertise to skills and sector-based volunteers. 


*Refugees and the UK Labour Market (2019), COMPAS  

***The Grant Thornton Business Outlook Tracker is a bi-monthly survey of mid-market businesses. Censuswide (on behalf of Grant Thornton UK LLP) surveyed 601 senior decision makers in UK mid-market businesses between 26 November – 6 December 2021. The UK mid-market is defined as companies with an average annual turnover between £50million - £500million. 

*** The Impact of Covid-19 on Refugees, Breaking Barriers (2020)  

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