In his speech last week at the Tory party conference, the Prime Minister spoke of fixing the “old broken model” of low wages, low growth and low skills which he said has been “enabled and assisted by uncontrolled immigration”. It went down well with the party faithful, but the impact of this revisionist pretext for Brexit is creating a far more complex employment landscape than can be captured in a few punchy soundbites.
Employment in Scotland rose slightly over the summer months as job vacancies hit record highs but that was before the end of the job retention scheme on September 30. It remains to be seen whether the majority of the newly-unemployed can be rapidly re-routed into sectors suffering acute labour shortages.
One such sector is social care, where employers are in an ongoing struggle to fill a growing number of vacancies. A report last month from the UK Government’s own Migration Advisory Committee fingered post-Brexit immigration rules as the culprit in a “looming shortage” of workers.
The committee noted that under the points-based system introduced in January of this year, most social care jobs do not qualify as skilled workers. This in a market where nationals from the European Economic Area are a “non-negligible contributor to securing an adequate care workforce in an ageing society” (in other words, they previously made up a significant 5.9 per cent of workers that can’t readily be replaced).
Initial figures last week from the government’s Insolvency Service suggest that mass job cuts in the wake of furlough’s end have not so far materialised. If this continues to be the case that will of course be a welcome development, yet will do little or nothing to ease staff shortages elsewhere.
In a bid to tackle mounting strains, the Scottish Government last week announced a £300 million funding package to help health care services get through the winter. It includes plans to give social care workers a pay rise to a minimum £10.02 per hour, plus a £4m investment in “staff wellbeing” to address deepening dissatisfaction from the deteriorating physical and emotional condition of staff.
Former Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman had in March already announced that social care workers will see their pay rise to at least £9.50, so will a further 52p per hour increase be enough to attract workers to a sector that has had so much negative press? The more likely scenario is one of many more challenging months ahead.
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