I write this from a train, on the way to visit my younger brother. When I get to Wales, where he lives in a care home, he will be waiting at the station with his care worker, who, having driven him there in the motability car, will have already have put in a full morning’s work. He or she (they work in shift patterns) will have helped my brother get up, washed and dressed; helped him use the toilet; made him his breakfast; given him his medication, and provided him with a “key schedule” of the day’s activities. This helps my brother, whose severe autism means routine is paramount, cope with the unpredictability of day-to-day life.
‘These workers are labelled low-skilled, but they are anything but: it takes empathy, resilience, and emotional intelligence to be a care worker’
You’ll understand, then, that the news that Brexit could mean a UK shortage of nearly 400,000 care workers by 2026 if we leave the EU without a deal on free movement has personal resonance for me. Perhaps it does for you, too: perhaps you have an elderly parent, a disabled relative, or a child who has been released from hospital, and you can’t manage on your own. So an industry reliant on the free movement of EU labour steps in, an industry already suffering from a shortage of 90,000 staff – a vacancy rate of 6.6 per cent – as a result of years of austerity.
Is this crisis what those politicians who spoke of wanting to control our borders were hoping for? As they continue to age, they might find themselves needing care, too. Will it matter to them then in which accent they are greeted and comforted?
We have an ageing population and wages for carers remain shockingly low, with many not being paid for the time spent travelling between visits. In circumstances like these, the question is: who cares? Who will care? This isn’t a looming crisis – it’s already one.
Care workers have been a part of my life
Care workers have been a part of my life since childhood. Growing up with my brother means my family has been helped by a parade of heroes and heroines over the decades. Though largely non-verbal, my brother still remembers them and will say their names, smiling.
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