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Don't Bite the Hand That Feeds You

Greta Scott

Posted on July 19, 2020 11:53

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When I worked in a retirement home last year, I got to know a care assistant who was a lawyer back home in Romania. In Britain, she worked 12-hour days, six days a week, and spent her day off learning English. She did this to support her children at home. Romanians say "Nu mușca mâna care te hrănește" – don't bite the hand that feeds you. As Britain ends freedom of movement between the UK and the EU, we would do well to remember our reliance on the 3.6 million EU migrants in the UK.

Several months ago, the British government announced it would be ending freedom of movement between the UK and the EU and implementing a new points-based immigration system. Under this system, distinctions will be made between "skilled" and "unskilled" workers. Care assistants aren't considered "skilled" — most care jobs don't even pay enough to reach the immigration income threshold of £25,600 — ironic given the amount of training required to work in care. We recently learned that care assistants won't even benefit from the new Health and Care Visa designed to help healthcare workers come to the UK. The Home Office says that's because they want to focus on recruiting British-born care assistants. So let's look at that.

In Britain, 17% of care jobs are filled by foreign workers. Home Secretary Priti Patel claims that these jobs could be filled by the 8.5 million inactive workers in Britain. However, this figure includes students, sick and retired people, meaning there are actually under two million potential workers. Would these two million Brits want to work in care?

Well, what incentivizes the care assistants among the 340,000 Romanians in Britain? In 2017, Romanians abroad sent $4.944 billion home: a big reason that Romanian immigrants come to work in the UK is remittance. The average income in Romania is less than $5,000, compared to the UK's $31,000. Care assistants in Britain are paid around $22,333. That means that Romanians who work some of the poorest paid jobs in the UK can earn over four times as much as they would earn on an average salary in Romania. Any money they send home is worth significantly more than it is to British-born workers. Minister for Romanians Abroad Natalia-Elena Intotero adds that many workers leave Romania because of "day-to-day material shortages, low incomes, lack of decent employment, stability, poor quality of the political class over time, [and] corruption." The British government cannot possibly replicate that incentive to encourage British-born workers to become care assistants. Not when they are paid a pittance.

This is a problem. Already, one in 11 positions in care is unfilled. As Vic Rayner explains, by making it harder for EU immigrants to work in Britain, "You also may have to get less choosy about who you employ, and that's a dreadful thought. A lot of our EU staff are highly skilled. They are smart, articulate and speak three or four languages. We don't get that quality of applicants from the UK because of the status the profession has."

So, in the middle of a pandemic, as we have stood and clapped for care assistants, as the Health Secretary has introduced a new "Carer" badge which allows care assistants to access the same perks as healthcare workers, we are pushing them away.

As the Romanian expression goes, "cine sapă groapa altuia, cade singur în ea" — those who dig a hole for others, fall in it themselves.

Greta Scott

Posted on July 19, 2020 11:53

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