Is Caring a Skill?

The immigration rules are changing here. Generally I have a liberal view towards immigration – and one that probably wouldn’t win me any friends at dinner parties, if I ever went to any that is! I am aware though, that my view is sometimes prejudiced by the knowledge that my own great-grandparents took refuge in the UK – fleeing from violence and repressive political systems.

I grew up with a constant awareness of this.

Migrants are coming in for a hard time now. The economy is on a downturn and there are easy targets to be identified.

So the government is adjusting its policies and closing down the loophole that allowed a freer range to Commonwealth immigrants – now favouring an Australian (and Canadian) type system of ‘points’ being awarded.

Of course, the growth and development of the European Union and her free labour market has had an effect on this. Now, employers need to prove that they need to look outside the whole of the European Union to find a particularly skilled job.

So how does this relate to Social Care and Social Work?


image shutr at flickr

Because neither carers nor social workers make it onto the list of jobs that can be filled by migrants from outside Europe. Well, that’s not entirely accurate because Senior Care Workers (specified as those earning above £8.80ph) are included. Anyone working in the field of care will know that the wages in general waver around the minimum wage level (currently £5.52 for workers over 22 and £4.60 for those under 21)

Care Workers exclusion has caused consternation within the Social Care sector. Caring Business, unsurprisingly, given the target audience, have reported that

Care home sector leaders have blasted reforms to the immigration system as ‘unrealistic and unworkable’.

Martin Green, chief executive of the English Community Care Association (ECCA), said: ‘We welcome the fact that skilled senior care workers are being recognised as a shortage occupation and placed on the list. However, to link this to a recommended salary of £8.80 is simply unrealistic and unworkable.

‘It is entirely inappropriate to use salary as a basis for skill. Far more attention should have been paid to the great array of skills a senior care worker needs, not just to demonstrate the current government NVQ target, but on top of this maintain an up-to-date knowledge of the social and health care policy agenda.

Of course, we can understand the reluctance to link salary to skill. It would potentially increase the cost of care massively.

The blog of the Home News Editor of the BBC, Mark Easton, presents a different analysis.

Today, buried in the 300-page report of the Migration Advisory Committee, is a revelation and a warning.

The revelation is that employers in the social care and catering industries have been “misusing” the work permit scheme to bring in thousands of foreigners to fill low skilled jobs.

The warning is that having grown accustomed to employing cheap workers from the developing world, new eligibility rules may well make the cost of caring for the elderly even more expensive.

David Metcalf, chair of the MAC, put it to me like this: “If you want to keep wages down, you will need more immigrants.”

So social care employers have been driving wages down by bringing in workers from overseas. And actually, it rang some bells with me. I might have mentioned that I worked in residential care before I actually trained as a social worker. I worked for a smallish London-based charity. When I left (after all, I had worked in the same residential home for seven years which is quite a long time!), I kept in contact. About a year after I left, the organisation employed, en masse, about 60 staff from outside the EU, directly and on minimum wage payment. Some of my colleagues were affected directly. They no longer wanted to employ locally based care staff because it was too expensive.

Believe me, I am the first person to welcome migrant labour. Honestly. But not as a means to drive down wages. Welcome people from overseas ON THE SAME TERMS please. Why should someone be or accept less in payment just on the basis of where they were born? Is the quality of care expected any different? Then why the difference in the pay?

Easton goes on to say

Roughly one in every seven care workers is from overseas – in London it’s nearer one in two. Thousands have come from the Philippines and Zimbabwe, prepared to be BBCs (British Bottom Cleaners) in return for a wage too low to attract enough domestic applicants.

Some care staff are deemed skilled and in short supply – but they are identified by a wage in excess of £8.79 an hour. Not many care homes will pay that kind of money.

Managers argue that they simply cannot afford to. They are reliant on local authority budgets for social care and rules on minimum staffing levels which leave no room for pay rises.

So while it is easy for me to say ‘increase wages to create a quality work force’ – increased wages mean increased costs mean increased charges to local authorities and higher costs to those who fund social care – both those who are financed privately and through public money.

Can the nation afford it with an ageing population? Well, they don’t really have a choice.

One in two care workers in London are from overseas. One in two (said again for emphasis!). That’s a lot of people to find from among the local workforce to do a job that for isn’t attracting people in droves.

I’ve already written more than I meant to but a quick word on Social Workers too. I know many local authorities,  my own included, that have been on mass recruitment drives to the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to pick up and sponsor newly qualified Social Workers to fill the shortages in staff. When I was studying, we had agencies and local authorities coming into our university before we finished in an attempt to recruit us due to the shortages that existed.

I started work as a qualified Social Worker within a week of my having the confirmation of my university results.

Social Work remains among the  few courses that are fully funded at postgraduate level – which clearly has an affect on increasing supply. It certainly played a massive role in encouraging me to qualify.  

Is there still a shortage though? It seems like it looking around some random teams I know of personally. But the recruitment drive has dried up. Lack of funding, mostly and an increase of people starting social work degrees.

It’s hard though to imagine some social work teams in London (which is, after all, all that I know) remaining cohesive and capable without the injection of social workers from overseas.

Is it about to get worse? We’ll have to wait and see.

8 thoughts on “Is Caring a Skill?

  1. interesting as direct payment recipient as i pay over £8.80 per hour orto be precise £8.80 per hour and of course the agencies charge to local authorities £14 per hour et workers get £5.52 per hour and under personalised budgets and people wanting to remain in their own homes perhaps authorities will consider more joined up working and set up owb agebcies and workforce

  2. Caring is undoubtedly a skill, most jobs that require therapeutic human interaction are skilled. As a third generation Irish immigrant and living in an area of multiethnicity, (which undoubtedly has its problems as such), but is a much much better place to live because of it;; I always have concerns about immigration laws and feel they should be grounded in fairness not economics or worse racism

  3. I hadn’t thought about it in that context, Ray. The difficulty will be though that individuals are unlikely to be able to sponsor people to come over to the UK. The higher rates are interesting though. Unfortunately they won’t carry through to residential care.
    I completely agree, Silva. There is a skill which should be rewarded with appropriate renumeration. Maybe our society doesn’t value that skill highly enough in general.

  4. Oh, here comes my cynicism again. I think it’s a given that your society doesn’t value your skill. Nor does it value it over here.

    Our medical system over here has become more and more stratified over the years, and as a result, there are some professions that are way down at the bottom. I know there are many “certified nurses aids” that work in nursing homes here (and hospitals too) Really, I think it’s a glorified tech position. It’s certainly not a well paid one, and from what I read, turnover is incredibly high due to shoddy working conditions. I don’t think, however, that it’s the kind of job held by immigrants. It is more typically a job held by the under educated.

    For us, “immigration” = “Mexicans”. People here get all riled up about “them Mexicans taking our jobs” and it’s been a huge political issue the past few years. I’m with you in that I just don’t have that big a problem with it. And yes, they should be paid well, but if companies can hire them for under minimum wage they will. Many times, they’re working jobs where they can be paid under the table. Migrant farm work always comes to mind. Don’t see American’s lined up to take those jobs. And I tell you what: the Mexicans that I’ve encountered are some of the hardest working individuals around.

  5. It’s a very interesting issue. We don’t recruit abroad and only have a couple of foreign workers, both of whom are married to Brits so they don’t count for the purposes of this discussion. I know other agencies that have made good use of migrant workforce though, one who does some complicated thing involving shipping a workforce in for three weeks at a time and then sending them back to the Eastern block and bringing the second group back so they work three weeks on and three weeks off. like you, I am very liberal about immigration in general What is interesting is that one Polish girl we employed brought in a t least four “cousins” to “visit” – all of whom I still see in the area although she has moved away – the Government figures are in no way accurate because they don’t know about half of the (mostly) Eastern block people who have entered the country illegally since they joined the EU. You are right about costs and wages and, I believe, about the exploitation of foreign workers that has been keeping costs down. Oh dear – I feel a “we’re all doomed” moment coming on – the economy just canna’ take it Captain – she’s gonna blow and we are already running on impulse power only – I feel the SS Social Care Enterprise is heading for some turbulence….

  6. Reas – I think a level of cynicism is needed. In strong doses. I just think it’s sad in a way that the job of caring for others is one that is left at the bottom of the pile. I think it reflects on the society and the value placed on some of the more vulnerable people who need care.

    Caroline – I think the situation is probably a little different outside London. What I’d like to see is a general acceptance that wages have to be maintained at a level to attract and retain people who have a vocation for it, without driving people out through terms and conditions. It is a dream though – although, with a locking down of immigration policies and an increasingly older population – something is going to have to give..

  7. I am with Reas on this one, too. She summed up the United States situation quite accurately. I currently work with a Columbian immigrant who adds a lot of perspective. While conditions may appear rough in the US, compared to the developing world, things still look positively rosey over here. Immigrants will take the low wages because in most cases, they represent a higher quality of life. Most Americans will not seek out the training or positions because they represent a lower quality of life. Companies will pay the low wages because they need to make ends meet. It’s yet another edition of social work meets market forces.

  8. Yes, market forces indeed to the point that the supply exists – when supply is cut short then perhaps wages will HAVE to rise.

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