Recruitment agencies should ensure carers can speak English, says government adviser

Agencies should ensure people recruited as carers can speak English before placing them in vulnerable people’s homes, a government adviser has said.

Dr Shereen Hussein, scientific adviser to the Department of Health, told BBC Radio 5 live that not being able to speak English resulted in bad treatment for vulnerable adults. And she went on to call for a standard interview process to establish English language proficiency.

Hussein says: “Migrants from outside the European Union have a long history of working in the UK’s care sector, and have always had to prove their efficiency in the English language before securing jobs in the industry, but this is not the case with new arrivals from EU countries.”

She adds: “It would be really beneficial to have a standard interview process to establish English language proficiency, communication skills and softer skills of all care workers aiming to work in the sector… This standardised interview would not be a deterrent for migrant workers, but it will mean care agencies identify areas where induction and training is needed before they go to people’s own homes and provide intimate care to them.”

According to research by King’s College London, 20% of carers are migrant workers.

Miriam Warner, managing director of Miracle Workers, a care agency in Abergavenny in Wales, tells Recruiter that candidates from the EU not being able to speak English is an issue. She agrees that recruitment agencies should be responsible for ensuring care workers’ English is up to scratch. “We cannot take them on if they don’t speak good English… it wouldn’t be fair on the people they are supposed to be looking after,” she says.

Warner says that strong foreign accents are also a problem, especially with the older clients whose hearing is deteriorating, while being able to call 999 and make themselves clear to the operator is also vital.

Warner says the company brings potential recruits in for a week’s training, which gives them ample time to decide whether someone’s English is up to scratch. She estimates that between 15-20% of candidates are rejected because of their lack of English language proficiency.

She adds that foreign care workers need to be able to understand British understatement. “When I say ‘would you mind doing something’, I actually mean ‘do it now’.”

Colin Angel, of the UK Home Care Association, which represents the interests of care agencies, says: “Dr Hussein has identified an issue at a time when public spending on social care is extremely constrained, and with the low rates that local authorities are currently paying for home care it’s extremely difficult for agencies to increase the amount of paid training.

“Terms and conditions of the workforce are being pushed closer to the National Minimum Wage under the strain of spending cuts.”

Earlier this month, the BBC reported that new care workers will have to earn a training certificate within 12 months of starting a job from March 2015, although English language proficiency is not included in this training, according to Dr Hussein.