Oh Come All Ye Skilful
By guest blogger JEF SMITH
Of the 1.3 million care workers in England, about 7%, according to Skills for Care, are non-British. The numbers grew slowly over the last five years, but there was a much more rapid increase in the proportion of that group who came from continental Europe. Between 2011 and 2016 – the periods for which available statistics do not quite match up but the trend is clear – the number of European Economic Area migrants in the social care workforce increased by more than 30,000.
In short, social care has become more and more dependent on immigrants, not from the faraway Commonwealth but from other European countries. In the South East the proportion of EEA nationals in the care workforce is 10%; in Greater London as a whole it is 12%; in some boroughs it is as high as 25%.
That source of vital recruitment is now at serious risk from the Government’s post-Brexit immigration rules announced in mid-December.
The intention is to stop admitting migrants to posts with a salary level of £30,000 and although the Home Secretary appears to be arguing for lowering that level somewhat, any deal would still exclude most front line workers in residential and domiciliary care.
Salary is used as a proxy for skill, so that most doctors and many nurses would be allowed in but candidates for jobs alleged to be ‘low-skilled’ would be excluded. The Cavendish Coalition, representing employers and trade unions across the sector, has expressed extreme concern.
A central problem arises from our having to argue that care is highly skilled. It is easy to see that doctors and nurses have had lengthy professional training, but many ordinary people look after their own elderly or disabled relatives, attending to their needs for help with daily living tasks in much the same way as do many paid workers with their clients, without having a degree or diploma in caring.
How then can we argue, as the Cavendish Coalition does, that paid work in care settings is ‘hugely skilled’? It is true of course that many residents in homes have complex needs with which even the most dedicated of relatives have difficulty coping, but focusing on caring expertise, represented by either pay or qualifications, is to take on an argument we are bound to lose.
It detracts nothing from the training which the better employers provide for their staff to acknowledge that much of the day-to-day work of looking after vulnerable people is not high on skill as that term is conventionally used.
The essential characteristics which homes and agencies look for are commitment, flexibility, empathy and – not a bad word to feature at this time of year – compassion.
Whether or not our immigration obsessed prime minister admits it, there are simply not enough home-grown recruits with these qualities to meet the UK’s current – and rapidly growing – need.
- The CT Blog is written in a personal capacity – comments and opinions expressed are not necessarily endorsed or supported by Caring Times.