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10 Nov 2020

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Unskilled or brilliantly skilled?

By guest blogger JEF SMITH

In a message to the care sector posted in mid-May, care minister Helen Whatley wrote of the “brilliant skills” of care workers. We are used to tributes to the commitment and dedication which staff in care homes and domiciliary care display, and these qualities were also praised by Ms Whatley, but to hear the skills required for the job as “brilliant” is somewhat rarer, especially from a government minister.

On 19 February, the government of which Ms Whately is a member published a policy statement on the new, post-Brexit, “points-based immigration system” which will come into effect at the start of next year. The resulting legislation passed through its initial House of Commons stage last Monday. Great play is to be made of the distinction between high-skilled and low-skilled workers, the former welcome, the latter to have the door firmly shut in their face. Skill, however, is almost precisely conflated with remuneration. With only a few exceptions such as having a specific job offer or a recognised qualification, the criteria for admission to the UK will be that you are to be paid at least £25,600 annually.

This level of salary of course excludes almost all front line care workers. The result, as the bodies representing care providers have repeatedly pointed out, will make an already perilous staffing situation immeasurably more difficult. (The unpredictable effects of the coronavirus crisis can only complicate the situation.) The objective of the policy, to diminish the country’s “reliance on cheap labour”, is not in itself to be deplored, but what is to be done about a sector where labour is cheap precisely because an absurdly low value has been traditionally placed on the skills required?

There are several ways out of this problem. The one the government proposes to follow is to “concentrate on investment in technology and automation”, but most sensible people agree that robots are not yet anywhere near displaying the range of compassion, tenderness and flexibility of the best human carers. The second is to take advantage of what the policy calls “different arrangements for a small number of occupations”, in other words recognise, at least for the short term, that the care sector requires special treatment.

The third possible solution, and the one I would personally prefer, would be for the government to make available sufficient resources to pay care workers at levels commensurate with their “brilliant skills”, which would take them above the salary threshold required for entry. Problem solved, Ms Whatley.

  • The CT Blog is written in a personal capacity – comments and opinions expressed are not necessarily endorsed or supported by Caring Times.

One Reply to “Unskilled or brilliantly skilled?”

  1. Better still, Jef, would be for a minimum standard to be set for staff remuneration – similar to the “ethical standards” which would have underpinned Labour’s National Care Service. Without some sort of compulsion I fear the exploitation will continue.

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