Migrant Care Workers in Ageing Societies: Research Findings in the United Kingdom

by Alessio Cangiano

Jan 1, 2009
This study focused on the current and future role of migrant (foreign born) workers in the care of older people. It investigated the current and potential future demand for migrant carers in an ageing society; the experiences of migrant care workers, their employers and of older people in residential and home care settings; and the implications of these findings for the social care of older people and for migration policy. Focusing on the UK, it was one of four country studies conducted between Spring 2007 and Spring 2009 in the UK, Ireland, the USA and Canada.
  • The reliance of the independent care sector in particular on the migrant workforce has considerably expanded over the past decade. Foreign born care workers, including recent migrants, are making a significant contribution to care provision for older people, particularly in London.
  • The principal reason private care providers recruit migrants is the difficulty of finding sufficient suitable UK born staff, reflecting the low pay and working conditions in the sector.
  • Employers think positively of the contribution migrants make, including a strong ‘work ethic’. It is important to ensure that this does not extend to exploitation of migrants’ ‘willingness’ to accept poor working conditions because of financial and/or legal constraints.
  • High vacancy and turnover rates and the ‘willingness’ of migrants to accept low pay are not the only factors shaping the recruitment and employment of migrant care workers. Their skills, as reported by employers, are contributing to the quality of care provided. Their overall contribution should be acknowledged in public and policy debates.
  • The evidence on the factors influencing quality of care underlines the importance of creating for all workers, and particularly for migrant workers (given their potential language barriers and lack of local knowledge of customs), working conditions that facilitate communication and relationship building.
  • The negative attitudes of some older people towards migrants, particularly before a relationship has had an opportunity to develop, present a challenge on which employers, including older people, need guidance and on which migrants lack advice and support.
  • Our findings nevertheless suggest that, in the absence of a step change in public funding for care provision, the care sector will continue to rely on a significant number of migrant care workers. The role of migrants should therefore be planned, not an unintended consequence of pay and working conditions unattractive to other job seekers; and the implications of their contribution should be addressed – not ignored – in the consideration of future immigration and social care policies.
  • Recommendations for improving the lives of migrant care workers include increasing the funding and status of care work.
  • Recommendations for improving the lives of migrant care workers include retaining a migration entry channel for senior care workers.
  • Recommendations for improving the lives of migrant care workers include monitoring the long-term need for a migration entry channel for lesser skilled care workers.
  • Recommendations for improving the lives of migrant care workers include improving Government coordination and communication with employers.
  • Recommendations for improving the lives of migrant care workers include promoting integration and access to long term residence and citizenship.
  • Recommendations for improving the lives of migrant care workers include ensuring access to language and skills training and guidance on cultural norms.
  • Recommendations for improving the lives of migrant care workers include addressing the prevalence of discrimination and harassment.
  • Recommendations for improving the lives of migrant care workers include monitoring the implications of the direct employment by older people of migrant home care workers.
  • Recommendations for improving the lives of migrant care workers include fostering public recognition of the invaluable contribution of care workers.
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