Comments by Sanwar Ali:
How many British people or residents actually wish to become care workers? It is difficult enough to find people willing to work in highly paid manual occupations such as in plumbing. Finding social care workers is more difficult still.
In developed countries, many young people want to have a degree and then work in a "professional level" job. They do not want to work as plumbers, electricians, etc. Some people have argued that too many people are doing degrees. Once someone has a degree, they are unlikely to want to do tradespeople jobs or work as a social carer.
If people already living in the UK are unwilling to do certain jobs, then perhaps immigration is the only option. It remains uncertain even if you were to substantially increase salary rates for care workers, for example, that you would attract enough people from the local labour market.
The UK government’s so-called independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has demanded that care workers are paid more to stave off a shortage of staff in care homes. The MAC said care homes will struggle to recruit the necessary personnel if wages are not increased as a ‘matter of urgency’, especially amid the coronavirus crisis.
The MAC said: “Carers should be paid more than Aldi staff and pocket significantly more than £10-an-hour.” UK government ministers have now been urged to raise care worker pay to avoid plunging the sector into even greater crisis when the Brexit transition is completed on 31 December 2020.
The MAC argues that wages should rise to attract British workers as relying on immigrant labour is ‘unsustainable.’
Chairman of the MAC, Professor Brian Bell, said: “An awful lot of social care workers are paid the minimum wage of £8.72 an hour. I keep on referring to Aldi as an example where their entry level wage for working on the shop floor is £9.40 an hour.”
Choice of "Aldi" or care work
“You just have to ask the question, ‘If you're thinking of what career to go into, do you decide to go and earn £9.40 an hour working on a shop floor, or £8.72 – i.e., eight or nine per cent less – in the extraordinarily stressful and hard work that a care worker has to?’” Professor Bell added.
Bell went on to argue that the sector has no chance of attracting British workers on a pay scale that’s less than that of an Aldi workers. He said: “There is of course a fundamentally different question that is – how much do we value these workers as a society, and how much we should pay them?”
Health and care visa not for most care workers
Earlier this year, the Home Office controversially excluded foreign social care workers from its new, fast-track Health and Care visa, launched in August. The latest warning from Whitehall’s immigration advisers were detailed in a 649-page report published on 29 September.
The report calls for a number of job roles to be added to the UK’s Tier 2 visa Shortage Occupation List to make it easier for foreign workers to fill vacancies when EU free movement ends and a new, points-based UK immigration system begins.
The report calls for occupations such as bricklayers, builders and welders to be added to the list.
Net migration hits record levels
Despite net migration to the UK hitting record levels recently, before the coronavirus crisis, the next set of statistics – due to be published in November – are set to show a decline in migrant numbers because of the pandemic.
Professor Bell said: “The number of migrants coming to work in the UK has already decreased and we are likely to see an increase in unemployment over the next year as the economic impact of the pandemic continues, so this has been a very challenging time to look at the Shortage Occupation Lists.”
However, Bell was quick to add that migration alone cannot resolve shortages in the care sector. The 649-page report states: “Migration is often a sensible response to a labour shortage that cannot rapidly be met by hiring domestic workers.”
“This is often because it takes time to generate a new supply of domestic workers with the right skills and experience, and migration can help fill the gap,” the report adds.
The report concludes by saying: “The MAC believes that migration alone cannot solve the care crisis in the UK more substantially, not because we underestimate the difficulties faced in the sector, but because migration will not solve underlying problems with pay and incentives that are fundamental to placing the social care sector on a sustainable footing.
“While migration could, in theory, be used to create a ‘captive’ workforce of low-paid workers tied to the job by their UK visa conditions (at least in the short run), doing this has significant drawbacks, including exacerbating the risks of exploitation of low-paid workers with limited ability to move between employers.”
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