An ex-squaddie who went viral after issuing a plea for work on Twitter has spoken out about the grim reality faced by many unemployed veterans.
Byron Kirk spent eight years in the Army, after joining at 16, and completed tours of Iraq and Afghanistan with the Household Cavalry Regiment.
But after leaving the forces and completing a degree in photography, the 31-year-old found it almost impossible to find a stable job.
“You get a lot of people who are very supportive of the military,” Kirk told HuffPost UK.
“But as far as putting their money where their mouth is, they seem to be quite reluctant to employ veterans because they think we are mad, bad and dangerous,” he said.
After spending three years struggling from one zero hour contract to the next - a precarious plight that left him feeling “very anxious” - Kirk took his search for steady work to social media, asking his followers to help him find a job.
To his shock, the Nottingham-based veteran was inundated with responses.
More than 8,000 people have shared his tweet - including JK Rowling and Ben Fogle, with employers and job sites also getting in touch.
“I posted the tweet at a low - I felt like my options were limited and didn’t expect much of a response,” Kirk said.
“But within 20 minutes the post had received over 200 retweets and I have received messages from across the globe.
“I haven’t received anything solid, but the outcome looks very positive. The response has boosted my confidence and I’m glad I asked for help.”
But while Kirk says he is grateful for the “amazing” response, he has shared his dismay that “it had to come to this”, describing his Twitter request as a “cry for help”.
“I just feel very embarrassed I’ve had to ask for help,” he added.
“With all the zero hour contract work I have been doing, I have worn my car into the ground.”
Kirk, who was forced to drop out of an MA course at Nottingham University last year because of family problems, added: “Now I don’t have a car and I’m due to go back to university part-time in September, but I can only do that if I pay off my tuition fees.”
Now, the aspiring photographer - who hopes to be able to afford to go back to university part-time - is calling for more for veterans to get them into stable work after leaving the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force.
A 2014 study by the Royal British Legion found that just 60% of working age veterans are employed, compared to 73% of the general population.
At that time, around 700,000 of this group were unemployed.
Kirk, who was born in Derbyshire, believes that the public’s perceptions of Britain’s military action in Iraq and Afghanistan has put ex-squaddies at a disadvantage when looking for a job on “civvy street”.
“It almost feels that everyone is so critical of what happened in those years that they immediately feel that we are victims and expect us to be damaged goods,” he said.
“People are very passive-aggressive towards the situation - ‘We support the troops, but not what you did’.
“That doesn’t work for the lads. It’s patronising and down grading and it has set the scene for what’s going on now, where the lads aren’t being employed.”
He continued: “Some people will recruit you, but only for a short period of time.
“Lots of my friends have just given up - they are just so fed up of it, of spending so much time applying for work, getting a job, getting told it’s great and they’re going to be there forever, then finding out its zero contract hours and there’s nothing there for them.
“All my friends, including myself, have all had to rely on the Royal British Legion,” Kirk added.
“It’s just too much.”