Policy hot seat: Daisy Cooper, deputy leader, Liberal Democrats

Daisy Cooper
Daisy Cooper

William Walter, managing director of adult social care PR consultancy, Townsend Communications, discusses government proposals to boost recruitment through migrant workers with Daisy Cooper MP, Liberal Democrat health and social care spokesperson and deputy leader.

Is the health secretary’s recommendation to hire migrant workers rejected by the NHS an effective solution to the social care sector’s staffing crisis?

Effective communication skills are important for ensuring good-quality care and the effective running of care homes. The government’s proposal to hire migrant workers rejected by the NHS for lack of language skills fails to recognise this. It’s a sticking plaster that at best will lead to a marginal increase in recruitment and at worst could impact vulnerable people’s care.

Instead, the government needs to recognise the value of care workers and invest time and resources in recruiting, retaining and rewarding them.

Unfortunately, poor pay is driving care workers to the NHS, hospitality and other sectors, leaving those in need without care packages. But, even with better pay, we will undoubtedly need to recruit care workers from abroad. In doing so, we should maintain a good level of general English language skills.

Is the skills crisis facing the social care sector part of a broader failing in other areas of government?

Many parts of our economy are facing a labour shortage and a skills crisis, creating intense competition in the job market. However, with social care vacancies hitting a record 165,000, any responsible government would have tried to get ahead of this with serious workforce planning.

Frustratingly, the Conservative government spent months whipping its MPs against a cross-party drive to commit the government, in law, to producing annual workforce projections.

Care workers are at breaking point and quitting the industry in droves. To retain care workers they must have hope that support is on its way. Being honest and transparent about the levels of staff we will need in the years to come would be a crucial first step.

Would greater investment in nursing skills and training, as well as more effective marketing initiatives, lessen the recruitment crisis?

Yes undoubtedly, but we should also learn from what is already working well. Values-based recruitment has reduced turnover of staff, as has the provision of continuing professional development.

But the reality is that social care workers are getting a raw deal. They are under enormous strain both financially and in their working conditions. A marketing campaign won’t change that reality.

“But the reality is that social care workers are getting a raw deal. They are under enormous strain both financially and in their working conditions. A marketing campaign won’t change that reality. ”

The Liberal Democrats support the introduction of a real living wage for care workers, the replication of NHS pay bands and career progression.

These are concrete ways to ensure more people are encouraged to take up social care work and continue in the sector.

Will the migrant proposal exacerbate a two-tier system between health and social care?

Yes. Social care is a difficult and skilled profession which should be valued more highly. Although language requirements are different between the two sectors, we should not be moving in a direction that paints social care as a lower tier to the NHS. The two are inextricably linked – one cannot function properly without the other.

We already know that delayed discharges from the NHS are in large part down to the crisis in social care. Supporting social care providers is the first step in bringing down wait times for NHS treatment.

Ultimately, it’s in the government’s interest to do everything it can to value and reward care workers properly so that the UK can be one of the best places in the world to age and be cared for.

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