Hospitality instead of hostility:  a social care approach to immigration.

My late mother had many favourite quotes most of which I have forgotten – so it is good to have a sister to remind me and to continue her voice! But one I can very well remember not least because she used it so often was ‘Treat others the way you want them to treat you.’ It was her equivalent of the biblical imperative often known as the Golden Rule where Christ says: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

I’m not saying by any stretch of the imagination that I have lived up to the standards of the Golden Rule, but it was what came to my mind when I read the social media posts of the UK Government’s Home Secretary James Cleverley this past week. In a post on X, formerly Twitter, he almost seemed to delight and relish in stating that he had laid an order in the House of Commons on Monday, which will ‘ban overseas care workers from bringing dependents.’ and that ‘this is just one part of our plan to deliver the biggest ever cut in migration.’

What he was referring to was a decision first announced in December 2023 and given a date this past week that from the 11th March ‘social care workers will not be allowed to bring dependants (that is, partners and children) on their visa.’ It is part of a set of new measures including the fact that the minimum income normally required to sponsor someone for a spouse/partner visa will rise in stages from £18,600 per year to £29,000 and ultimately around £38,700.’ See more details at

The UK Government has said that approximately 120,000 dependants accompanied 100,000 care workers and senior care workers in the year ending September 2023. We have of course, no way of verifying these figures and even if they are true, I would want to ask what is the issue?

I have written and spoken a lot about the need for an immigration approach which is sensitive to the uniqueness of the Scottish demographic and the reality that we have such a high level of demand in our health and social care systems. I do not necessarily want to underline those points here because in a sense you either accept or reject the argument that social care organisations are unable to recruit and retain staff at sustainable levels- despite all the measures they have taken including terms and conditions which are better than anywhere in the UK – although still not good enough. But in summary my main arguments about why international recruitment remains vital are as follows:

‘Scotland is an ageing society and has a declining population. Sadly, as we age and live longer, we are not doing so healthily and that brings a personal and societal cost to it. In addition, our population which is still active, and working is older and inevitably less productive because of health, fitness, and energy. We have also seen after Covid19 an increase in the number of those described as ‘inactive’ in the labour market – that is those of working age who have either retired early or chosen not to work. Added to this people are thinking of the ‘life-work’ balance not the ‘work-life balance’ and deciding that doing less work is the way to achieve that.

Therefore, by simple arithmetical calculation we bluntly do not have enough people to do the jobs we need filled to function as a modern society.’

What I want briefly to reflect on today is the hostile nature of the UK Government’s approach to immigration which is doing untold damage to the image of our communities and the sustainability of social care organisations, and in turn is directly affecting the lives and welfare of our fellow citizens. I do not think it is hyperbole to state that the logical conclusion to such a hostile environment is the unnecessary harm and potential deaths of citizens who require social care support. If there are not enough care workers, then people are at real risk.

The statements and invective from the UK Government are creating a toxic environment in which international recruiters of skilled nurses and care staff are already telling me that people across the world are being put off from even considering coming to Scotland because it is perceived that they – and certainly their families – are not welcome and are not wanted. We seem to be sending a message which on the one hand is saying ‘Come and work in our services and supports, in our hospitals and care homes, in our communities and help us be healthy and well… but do not even consider bringing your own families and being well and whole and healthy in your own mind and body. ‘We need you; we want you, but we will use you.’

The commoditisation of people by a hostile immigration policy is a shaming of our shared humanity and politicians appealing for votes are plumbing the lowest common denominator by their actions. What does it say to our contemporary society that those who care for others should not have due care and attention given to their own needs? – and for many that means being with family, creating a space to belong, becoming rooted as our neighbours and becoming our fellow Scots.

We can and have to do better. So back to my old mother, ‘Treat others the way you want them to treat you.’

I have reflected about my upbringing a fair bit this week not least as we are in the midst of Seachdain na Gàidhlig or World Gaelic Week. Taking place from 19th – 25th February 2024, Seachdain na Gàidhlig is the first official nationwide language week of its kind in Scotland, and it aims to promote Gaelic for all. ‘The theme for the 2024 edition of the cultural celebration is Do Chànan. Do Chothrom, which translates to Your Language, Your Opportunity. Participants are encouraged to showcase how the Gaelic language benefits and enriches lives, opening doors for connections, collaboration, and success.’

The week captures part of the essence of Gaelic culture which I have been aware of from my childhood – and that is an openness to others, an enrichening of self by contact with people, an appreciation of difference and with diversity. In essence Gaelic culture recognises the human truth which lies at the heart of all social care, namely that we become who we are by being open, by being hospitable to friend and stranger alike.

Hospitality needs to be at the heart of any civilised society’s approach to immigration. It is a lived ideal which is intrinsic to the Gaelic culture which has so enriched and enabled our country to be what it is and can be. The very concept of hospitality in Gaelic culture is a rich one deserving its own blog, but for our present purposes, in short it carries connotations of health and wellbeing. Work was paused as people were given space to be welcomed, fed, nourished, and nurtured. Our fellow Celts in Ireland even had hospitality to travellers and strangers written into their ancient laws, and most of us know the story that the shock at the heart of the Massacre at Glencoe is first and foremost that it was an assault on the traditional practice of hospitality more than anything else.

To be hospitable is part of the Scottish psyche, it is part of our DNA to welcome and give value to those who as yet do not belong to us.

An immigration policy rooted in the Scottish tradition and spirit of hospitality better fits the humanity of our nation; it better fits the nature of social care which those of us who work in the sector seek to foster, and those who receive care and support expect to experience.

In this Gaelic Week, we are called to give an open hand rather than a shut door to the dependents of those we are increasingly dependent upon.

When I read the statement of James Cleverly and the subsequent justification by the UK Government for this hostile act, I was reminded of the poetry of Uyen Loewald, an Australian migrant of Vietnamese background, who was subjected to racial oppression and discrimination when first migrating to Australia. Her poem ‘Be good little migrants’ is well known to Australians and is a visceral critique of those who expect migrants to sacrifice their human dignity in order to ‘fit in and gain favour’. It is the very opposite of hospitality and should serve as a warning of the sort of society some would have us become. It is not treating others the way I would want to be treated.


Be good little migrants

We’ve saved you from starvation

war, landlessness, oppression

Just display your gratitude

but don’t be heard, don’t be seen

Be good little migrants

Give us your faithful service

sweep factories, clean mansions,

prepare cheap exotic food

pay taxes, feed the mainstream

Be good little migrants

Use leisure with prudence

sew costumes, paint murals

write music, and dance to our tune

Our culture must not be dull

Be good little migrants

We’ve given you opportunity

for family reunion

equality, and status, though

your colour could be wrong.

Be good little migrants

Learn English to distinguish

ESL from RSL

avoid unions and teach children

respect for institutions

Be good little migrants

You may fight one another, but

attend Sunday school, learn manners

keep violence within your culture

save industry from criminals

Be good little migrants

Intelligence means obedience

just follow ASIO, CIA spy on your countrymen

hunt commies for Americans

Be good little migrants

Museums are built for your low arts

for your multiculturalism

in time you’ll reach excellence

Just waste a few generations.

Donald Macaskill

Photo by Krzysztof Hepner on Unsplash