Opinion

If UK doesn't value foreign care workers like me, it will never fix problems in social care

Ministers have pledged to crack down on immigration. That's leaving overseas care workers feeling undervalued when they should be celebrated, writes South African-born care worker Sybil Msezane

Care worker Sybil Msezane

Care worker Sybil Msezane. Image: Supplied

In less than a month, it will be Christmas. In the residential home for young people where I work, we’re already talking about how we want to celebrate. What decorations might work in the communal rooms, and if they want to decorate their own rooms, or visit winter wonderland. Each child is different, and they have all been through extremely challenging life events. But for each of those children, we want to make Christmas really special.

That’s why, when I hear the government talk about a “crackdown” on overseas carers like me, I can’t help picturing young people in care, those with disabilities and the elderly. For some in these groups, carers are a lifeline. Whether working overnight shifts or making the daily visits that allow vulnerable people to stay in their home, carers are the people that check up on you, make sure you’re eating well and celebrate with you when it’s your birthday, or a festival like Christmas. What happens if the carer is suddenly no longer there?

Change a Big Issue vendor’s life this Christmas by purchasing a Winter Support Kit. You’ll receive four copies of the magazine and create a brighter future for our vendors through Christmas and beyond.

Under plans drawn up by immigration minister Robert Jenrick, the government could restrict foreign health and care workers to bring one relative with them to the UK, or possibly ban them from bringing family dependants altogether. It comes as the prime minister vowed to do “whatever is necessary” to reduce net migration, which reached a high of 745,000 in 2022. According to the Office for National Statistics, some of the growth was due to workers taking up overseas care worker visas.

The net migration figures reveal a simple fact – the country needs us. Across the UK, there is a lack of suitable placements in children’s homes, and much of that is due to a shortage of staffing. The reality of care work is that you need staff who are available all the time, including unsociable hours like weekends and evenings, and often for low pay. Residential homes find themselves in a Catch-22 situation where in order to offer places to new residents, they need enough staff to look after them. And that’s without considering the increased need for other types of carers as the population ages.

But the debate around net migration also reveals a troubling set of double-standards as well. Rishi Sunak recently boasted about an investor visa which allowed entrepreneurs to bring their family to the UK. Don’t carers have families too? Care work is hard, and often involves dealing with challenging behaviour. After a difficult day, it’s important to be able to come home and have a cuddle with a loved one. It took me six months to be reunited with my son after I moved to the UK, and it was very hard on him, as it would be for anyone who is missing their family.

For me and many other overseas workers, care work is a vocation. I have many qualifications from working with young people for many years in South Africa, and also worked with disabled people fifteen years ago when I previously worked in the UK on a working holiday visa. I believe there is nothing more rewarding than being able to impact someone’s life. But ultimately, if the UK doesn’t value care workers, then it will never solve the problem of social care. If an ambitious young person today looks at their options, and they know a career in care means earning on average £25,000 a year, compared to the salary they could earn working in IT, it’s a difficult decision.

When the government is saying entrepreneurs can bring their families but care workers can’t, what is it really saying? Does it think care workers don’t contribute, because we are not starting companies or investing millions? All I know is that for the ordinary British person whose life is supported by a care worker, we can make a huge difference. Human life is as important as money.

And that’s what care workers do – we make people’s lives better, easier and more comfortable at the time they need the help the most.

Care workers may never earn as much as IT workers or entrepreneurs, but they give up so much of their lives to look after other people, and yet the government’s approach suggests it doesn’t consider care workers worthy of care themselves.

And let’s celebrate immigrants too. I’m going back to South Africa soon for a short trip, and I’m already thinking about what gifts I can bring back for the residential home. The kids I work with love to hear stories about animals on safari from my Zimbabwean colleague. The rest of our colleagues are British, and together we make a fantastic team. Rather than scapegoating overseas care workers, why not start by asking how we can all benefit?

Sybil Msezane is a South African activist who is working in the UK on a Health and Care Worker visa. She is also an Ambassador for this year’s International Migrants Day (18 December)

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

Support our vendors this winter and beyond

If you can't visit your local vendor on a regular basis, then the next best way to support them is with a subscription to the Big Issue. As a social enterprise, we invest every penny we make back into the organisation. That means that with every subscription, we are supporting people in poverty to get back on their own two feet.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Police trust is at all-time low after years of scandals. This is what I learned from new recruits
Chris Warburton

Police trust is at all-time low after years of scandals. This is what I learned from new recruits

The roots of NHS decay can't be hidden by soundbite veneers
Paul McNamee

The roots of NHS decay can't be hidden by soundbite veneers

Why Larry David is the menopausal woman's spirit animal. No, seriously
Lucy Sweet

Why Larry David is the menopausal woman's spirit animal. No, seriously

Without The Body Shop, there'd have been no Big Issue
John Bird

Without The Body Shop, there'd have been no Big Issue

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Here's when UK households to start receiving last cost of living payments
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Here's when UK households to start receiving last cost of living payments

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know