Why the Social Care Sector will Continue to Need Migrant Labour

Posted on: 09.10.2010    09:48:28

Social care is an area where public policies create demand for migrant workers. The shortages of social-care workers and care assistants are largely due to:

  • The low wages, usually around the minimum national wage of £5.93 an hour
  • Sometimes poor working conditions.
  • The work is certainly physically and emotionally demanding
  • Often undertaken in unsocial hours.

Most social care in the UK is publically funded but provided by the private sector and voluntary organisations. Constraints in local authority budgets have contributed to chronic underinvestment. Together with the structure of the care sector itself, this has resulted in a growing demand for low-waged, flexible workers. Simply cutting benefits or reducing legal access to migrant workers without addressing the causes of British workers’ reluctance to apply for jobs in the sector is only going to put more pressure on an already creaking system.

Immigration is often viewed as a discrete area of policy, and the relation between immigration, labour demand, and other policy areas typically remains unexplored in public debates.

Demand for migrant workers arises from a broad range of institutions, public policies and social relations. Reducing this reliance will require fundamental changes to the policies and institutions that create the demand. These must go beyond changes to the benefit system and include, for example, greater labour market regulation in some sectors and more investment in training. It also requires a move away from the reliance of some public services on low-cost labour.

Whether the UK is ready and willing to make these kinds of changes in exchange for fewer migrants is another question.

Certainly, the adjustments will take time and as social care remains a growth market we expect a net inflow of workers especially from Eastern Europe to fill the jobs that the Brits don’t want to do or more importantly lack the soft social skills to undertake successfully.


Author: Chris Slay

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