What does the post-Brexit immigration bill mean for our social care crisis? Stylist speaks to an expert to find out.
Every Thursday, politicians join the rest of the UK on their doorsteps, clapping for the NHS and key workers who are getting us through this pandemic. Care workers are of course among the “national heroes” who they clap for. But considering around a quarter of known coronavirus deaths in the UK have happened in care homes, and that social care workers are twice as likely to die of coronavirus than the average person – a thankful round of applause is perhaps the very least Boris Johnson and his government can do.
In a new move that further questions the government’s gratitude and respect for care workers, the House of Commons has just given its initial approval of a bill that considers their work as “low-skilled”.
The post-Brexit immigration bill presents an Australian-style points system. Points will be awarded for being able to speak English to a certain standard, having a job offer from an approved employer, and meeting a salary threshold of £25,600.
The vote happened on the same day Dominic Raab confirmed there are “no current plans” to exempt care workers from the £400 NHS surcharge that is compulsory for the majority of foreign workers in the UK to pay when staying in the country for six months or longer.
“Those who clapped [for carers] on Thursday are only too happy to vote through a bill that will send a powerful message to those same people - that they are not considered by this government to be skilled workers,” shadow home secretary Thomas-Symonds told home secretary Priti Patel in the Commons.
“Are shop workers unskilled? Are refuse collectors? Are local government workers? Are NHS staff? Are care workers? Of course they are not.”
So how exactly will this affect the social care sector, which was in a crisis long before anyone had ever uttered the word Covid-19?
“Ever since the Brexit referendum, a significant enough number of care workers have left the country, because they felt unwelcome,” Karolina Gerlich, executive director of The Care Workers’ Charity, tells Stylist.
“That will definitely get worse. Care managers and providers are extremely worried about staffing levels. Before Covid-19, there were around 122,000 vacancies. Now, over 130 healthcare workers have died because of coronavirus, which is absolutely unacceptable. That’s due to the lack of PPE, testing and any real concern and support for social care.
“There are a lot of care workers actually talking about leaving the sector. Nobody can blame them, nobody is saying right now ‘I want to go work in social care’. We need to drive recruitment, we need more people in social care. But, at the same time, why should we be asking people to come into the sector now if you’re putting your life at risk?”
According to Gerlich, many carers on low incomes lived paycheck to paycheck, surviving on loans and going hungry before the pandemic, and coronavirus has only made things worse. She agrees that, instead of clapping, the prime minister and his fellow MPs “need a strong decisive action in parliament around quality legislation on social care”.
Sharing her advice on what we can do as individuals to help promote real change and show support for carers, Gerlich says the first thing is to recognise and respect the social care sector as much as the NHS.
“Then you can can support The Care Worker’s Charity, organise your own fundraiser, donate directly to the charity, or just get involved in any way, shape or form. You can also send messages to care workers, follow our social media – the more exposure the charity gets, the more support there is for care workers.”
You can find out more information on how to support care workers on The Care Worker’s Charity website.