In an interview on Channel 4 News this week, Karolina Gerlich, executive director of The Care Workers’ Charity – and herself a care worker – was interviewed alongside Conservative MP Caroline Nokes about the points-based immigration bill, voted through the House Of Commons on Monday evening. Immigrants need to be designated ‘skilled workers’ and earn a minimum salary of £25,600 to work in the UK. The points are tradeable, so if, for example, you earn less than £25,600 but more than £20,480, speak English at the required level and are filling a vacancy in a shortage occupation, you might be able to achieve the 70 point threshold.
The Government has made some exceptions in the ‘lower-skilled’ worker category to enable seasonal workers in agriculture – such as fruit pickers – to continue to work here as needed.
Social care workers, however, are not considered ‘skilled workers’ despite their critical role in caring for society’s most vulnerable. During the current pandemic, Gerlich notes that ‘some care workers have had to take on new responsibilities, such as certifying causes of death or delivering wound care, that would previously have been carried out by district nurses’. Skills for Care estimate that 8% of the workers in the UK social care sector, equating to 115,000 jobs, have EU nationality, and 9% (134,000 jobs) have non-EU nationality.
In the Channel 4 News interview, Gerlich said starkly that the Bill shows that the Government values strawberries more than people. And these are the same politicians who are clapping for NHS staff and carers every Thursday evening.
Caroline Nokes MP, a former immigration minister, had in Parliament called for a temporary extension of visas for care workers, and indeed ancillary staff such as hospital cleaners. Yet this would represent a short-term measure to see us through the COVID crisis, rather than a longer term commitment to the professionalism and essential contribution of these workers.
Our politicians surely do not seek to engender suffering, uncertainty, familial separation, lack of gratitude or respect for individual dignity and worth: but a simple stroke of the bureaucratic pen can do exactly that.
The agreeably rational term, ‘a points-based system’, deflects the reality of immigration control, which involves surveillance, arrest, punishment, detention and exclusion. This set of social practices and infrastructure are referred to by lawyers and criminologists as ‘crimmigration’.
This infrastructure fuses the traditional criminal justice sector – police, courts and prisons – with the border institutions, such as ports and airports and new legal vehicles delivering tribunal justice. It is increasingly delivered through the private sector (for example, Serco were in February 2020 awarded the contract to run immigration detention centres at Gatwick – see related blog 20-May-20 Outsourcing), through non-justice related public services such as higher education, and through the individual and intimate spaces of access to work, healthcare or marriage.
While the Windrush affair exposed the grave injustice (and implications) of the crimmigration culture, there is no sign of rowing back on the hostile environment. Indeed, Bowling and Westenra (2018, p.178) argue that such discourse is perceived by many simply as ‘good management of migration’.
And that is nub of it. Home Secretaries must be populist, must be tough, in order to be seen as effective. To try and infuse some compassion and common sense into the management of borders and people, is seen as ‘soft’.
This is how we arrive at a situation where Karolina Gerlich can observe, without undue exaggeration, that the Government appears to prioritise strawberries over care workers.
© Natasha Mulvihill and Criminology Tales, 2020.