The Migration Advisory Committeee’s report on migration is mainly focused on economic impacts. It stresses that much of the concern about migration is misplaced, simply because immigration does not have that much effect on the underlying structures. The rather dismissive comments made about Scotland’s pleas for more migration rather misses the point. The issue is not about how the Scottish economy is performing proportionately to England; it’s about managing the effects of depopulation across a vast geographical area.
There was another set of comments, however, that set me off on a different tangent. This concerns the problems of social care. The MAC report notes:
Social care is a sector that struggles to recruit and retain workers which is a cause for concern as demand is rising inexorably. Its underlying problem is a failure to find a funding policy that allows the payment of higher wages.
That’s half right. There is major problem in finding the labour to provide social care, and low pay is part of the problem. Polly Toynbee has some cutting things to say about this, to great effect. But the problem runs much deeper than that. The issues are also about what kind of provision is being made. Social care has developed on a market model that attempts to commodify the time that carers spend with the people being cared for. So, we get people being given a series of time slots – 15 minutes, 30 minutes or the like – which are met ‘flexibly’ by workers on a rota. The poor conditions experienced by workers are not just a matter of low pay: it’s also that working on these terms, flitting from one slot to the next, is not a good way to work.
More importantly, the whole approach is bad for service users. Personal services depend on personal relationships. It matters whether or not the person who comes to care is the same person as it was last time, if that person can recognise that the person they’re looking after is having a worse time than before, if that person knows what to do in different circumstances, has time to talk, is trusted by the person who’s being cared for, and so on. A commodified, time-limited approach simply doesn’t fit most people’s needs. Even if we improve pay, conditions and the numbers of people engaged in care, this is the wrong model, and the wrong way to do things.