Britain's Conservative government is being accused of hypocrisy over its treatment of those working on the COVID-19 frontline.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been joining a weekly 'clap for carers,' while his ministers show their support for a new post-Brexit immigration bill - which will make it much tougher for migrant workers to get a job in the UK's care sector.
The bill, set to come in at the end of this year, will end freedom of movement from the EU. It will also pave the way for a new points-based system for those wanting to work in Britain, favouring migrants classed as skilled and meeting a salary threshold of 28,500 euros.
With many care workers currently earning less than that, it is claimed the door is effectively being shut in their face. The government defends its immigration plans, saying it is time to end a reliance on ‘cheap labour’ from Europe.
Carer in lockdown
Sandija Jasinovica, from Lithuania, is a live-in carer, working in the UK. The pandemic has left her locked down, looking after an elderly lady for the past 11 weeks.
“The last weeks have been quite mentally challenging but it has been, at the same time, very rewarding because I know I kept someone safe," she told Euronews.
Brits 'don't want to do this work'
Sandija is one of a thousand live-in carers working for The Good Care Group company. Almost half of its UK workers are from the EU.
"We need to start recognising these people as skilled workers and stop calling them low-skilled. We’re not bringing them in because they are cheaper, we’re bringing them in because there aren’t people in this country that want to do this work," said Dominique Kent, Managing Director of The Good Care Group.
The government says immigration is not the solution for care sector issues. But the industry is struggling to see a future without the migrant workers they have now.
“Our workforce very clearly needs to be put on the shortage list, that would enable people to bring care workers in," explained Karolina Gerlich from Poland, who is Executive Director of The Care Workers' Charity. "Obviously going forward, wages have to go up, so hopefully one day within the next few years, they will reach the threshold.”
Change of mood?
The new immigration bill has already got initial backing from parliament members. But the public mood may be changing, with one recent poll suggesting 54 percent of people now support looser immigration rules, for workers seen as essential during the pandemic.