A career in care is one where every day you can make a difference. Yet everyone who has any contact or connection with social care knows that we have a workforce shortage. In short, we’re talking about 29% nursing vacancies and a steady turnover for frontline care staff with a 24% attrition rate. If you fancy a deeper dive into the intelligence, both the SSSC and Scottish Care have written plenty on the subject and it’s available on their websites.
It is a critical time to raise the profile of the sector, recognising it for the vital role it plays in supporting the human rights of our some of our most vulnerable citizens and recognising its workforce for the skilled role they play in that as registered and regulated staff. Social Care enables people to stay healthier for longer, able to contribute to their communities and easing pressure on the NHS. I heard only yesterday about an 87 year old lady from a care home in Dumfries and Galloway going to local primary schools to teach German and French.
There is currently a national recruitment campaign for the sector, devised by Scottish Government and with contribution from many across the sector. It includes a campaign website and clear examples of career progression expressed by the SSSC, PR in the form of advertising and the promotion of case studies. A real opportunity to promote the many positives so often overlooked.
But this positive promotion has just had a coach and horses driven right through it by the Migration Advisory Committee and UK Government. Their complete and utter ignorance and underestimation of the critical role of the sector despite repeated warnings has led to the creation of a migration system which will see the care sector lose significant numbers of staff from the EU and beyond.
This is an action which has ripped apart families and caring relationships undermining the concept of continuity of care and the critical role which the sector plays. Whilst between 6 and 9% of our care staff come from the EU, this rises to as much as 40% in some parts of Scotland. Places where families have settled into local communities, where several members of that family might work in one care home taking on a variety of roles from nurse to carer, to handyperson and gardener.
Last month, the Scottish Government launched a report seeking for the option to introduce local solutions to address local challenges, this proposal was drawn from local evidence and systems which already exist in Australia and Canada, and could be implemented in any country or region of the UK.
Yet, by lunchtime the paper had been rejected by Westminster.
What is clear is that decisions around immigration need to be based upon facts and evidence, removed from any political rhetoric, whilst focussing on prosperity and wellbeing. There needs to be a move towards a more flexible policy which recognises social care as the skilled and vital service it is. It needs to accommodate the reality of regional difference such as the demographics of rural and remote areas, adjusting income thresholds to recognise a lower rate of pay outside of London, and also to allow for families to immigrate which means recognition of the contribution made by part time staff too. The system must not rely on funding from employers – the care sector is mostly funded by the public purse and this effectively produces bureaucratic duplicity.
There is also a need to consider the context for staff who may bring their qualifications with them come from abroad for instance, in supporting projects such as the one at Glasgow Caledonian University on migrant skills recognition to enable people to work in the care sector more easily, whilst also offering protection both to the workforce and those they care for.
The situation for social care is critical. Simple and effective solutions exist but cannot be implemented because of political jurisdiction made by those who are far from the frontline. To add another 9% to the social care vacancy rate risks blocking the whole system, an issue fundamentally of human rights given the catastrophic risk to people and their families.
Whilst our NHS colleagues have raised significant concern about what a reduction in social care would mean for acute services including NHS 24, the ambulance services and hospitals, I urge you also to share this message. For social care, for the people who access care and support, and the workforce affected by the proposals, we need to act now – time is running out.
National Director, Scottish Care
Read Scottish Care’s response to the UK Government’s immigration plans here.