“My confidence hit rock bottom – but now I’ve been employed for three years and am excited for the future”
A quarter of people living with HIV in the UK are currently unemployed. Many face barriers including gaps on their CV, low confidence and lack of skills when going back to work, as well as misunderstanding from employers about the condition.
Many of these individuals are skilled, trained professionals who are overlooked or have lost confidence because of their condition, meaning that UK employers could be missing out on a valuable talent source.
Here’s some facts about HIV that employers may not be aware of:
- HIV is a virus which attacks the immune system and weakens the body’s ability to fight diseases.
- The most common way HIV is transmitted is through sex without a condom.
- You cannot get HIV through casual or day-to-day contact, or kissing, spitting or sharing a cup, plate or toilet seat.
- An estimated 103,700 people are living with HIV in the UK and 6,000 people are diagnosed every year. Of these, 17% are undiagnosed and do not know about their HIV infection.
- HIV treatment lowers the amount of virus in the blood to undetectable levels which stops it from damaging the immune system, and means the virus cannot be passed on to other people. People on effective HIV treatment cannot pass on the virus. Fact.
- There is still a great deal of stigma about HIV. Stigma is damaging as it prevents people from getting tested, from accessing treatment and from living a happy and healthy life.
Terrence Higgins Trust, together with ViiV Healthcare, are tackling the high unemployment rate and transforming lives by supporting people with HIV back into work through work experience, mentoring and training.
The charity’s Work Positive programme provides work experience, mentoring, and employment coaching to people with HIV who are unemployed. ViiV then selects Work Positive graduates to take on a 12 month full time paid role at the company, to continue the development of their skills and confidence, and to enable them to gain hands on experience in the workplace.
50 year-old Matthew, from London, faced stigma and discrimination at work because of his HIV status. He explains:
“When I was diagnosed 22 years ago I told my employer, and he decided to tell the whole company. I couldn’t work there after this, as people started bullying me. They didn’t like the fact I was HIV positive, because at the time they didn’t really know what it was.
“I lost a lot of confidence in people. Then I had a stroke and my right hand side wasn’t working at all. My confidence hit rock bottom. I tried to build myself back up and get back into the workplace, but physically I knew I wasn’t ready. When I did start applying for jobs they’d all say was I had no experience.
“I saw an advert in my local hospital about Terrence Higgins Trust’s Work Positive Scheme, and I thought I would apply for it and see if I can get help from them.
“I got a call from them asking if I could come in for an interview, but when I got to the door, I thought ‘I can’t do this’. But I did it, and Ruth, the Work Positive Co-ordinator, made me so at ease. I came out of there buzzing, and thinking I really want to do this now.”
The Work Positive scheme from the UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity supports people to overcome barriers, meet new people and develop and renew their skills for today’s workplace.
“The course was brilliant,” added Matthew. “I realised I had skills to offer, like using Excel and Word, and it brought those out. Things were getting a lot brighter.
“Then a great opportunity came up – a full time paid job with ViiV Healthcare, part of a joint scheme with THT. I went for a very daunting interview with them, and then three days later I got a phone call saying I had got the job! It was a year’s contract that would help me get back onto the work ladder.
“After that, I applied for a job with GSK, and I got that job too, so now I’ve been there for just over a year now. It’s incredible that I’ve gone from not having a job for 17 years, to having an exciting career and have been in employment for three years. That’s meant I’ve been able to get in a position to buy a flat with my partner, and we’re now planning our wedding!”
The partnership between Terrence Higgins Trust and ViiV Healthcare helps people with HIV to get back on their feet and to live well.
“Everyone now says I’m a totally different person to what I was three years ago. Now I can go into an office where I don’t know anyone and do a presentation to over 30 people is amazing. There is no way I would have done that three years ago.
“The programme gives you the strength to move on from your diagnosis, to be confident again and to get excited about the future.”
Gillian Kenward, HR Business Lead and Back to Work programme Director at ViiV Healthcare, said:
“The programme demonstrates in a very practical way our commitment to address the impact of the epidemic. We go beyond the delivery of pharmaceutical solutions to address some of the societal challenges for people living with HIV such as overall well-being and equality in the workplace.”
Ruth Burns, Work Positive co-ordinator at Terrence Higgins Trust, says:
“The Work Positive Programme has gone from strength to strength, and nearly half of participants have secured paid work during or after taking part.
“The support we provide, together with ViiV Healthcare, sees participants transform into confident professionals who are a real asset to the workplace.
“We’re delighted to be relaunching the programme again with applications now open until 7th August. We’re encouraging anyone with HIV who feels they need a boost onto the career ladder to apply.”