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Short–sighted politics: on social care and migration policy

Short–sighted politics: on social care and migration policy

In light of recent care worker migration legislation, Hannah Rich looks at the importance of mutual love in economic policy. 18/03/2024

In 1936, the Japanese cooperative activist and Christian reformer Toyohiko Kagawa gave a lecture on what he called ‘brotherhood economics’, in which he argued that “humanity starves because it is too short–sighted to try to establish a new economic policy based upon mutual love.” The best part of a century later, this myopia of imagination and compassion persists.

Last week, new legislation came into force preventing care workers who come to the UK from bringing their immediate family with them. The Home Office’s social media feed boasted that this is part of their plan to deliver the biggest ever cut in migration and that 120,000 people who came to the UK last year would no longer be eligible under the new rules. This seems a strange priority, to say the least, when there were 152,000 unfilled vacancies in the adult social care sector in the same period. What possible incentive could there be for a much–needed care worker to move here to devote themselves to my parents or your siblings at the expense of their own family?

Drawing on foreign labour is not the only possible solution to the shortage of care workers, but needless to say the policy has not been accompanied by investment in the domestic care workforce even approaching the scale of the need. In raw economic terms, we need more carers and cannot afford to turn them away so deliberately.

But if it makes no logical sense, the flaws in this policy go far beyond that. They are moral too. This is indicative of a wider conception of carers, workers, migrants, perhaps even all people, as alienated economic units devoid of connections. They are numbers on a spreadsheet that can be copy–pasted from one country to another or from one economic line to another. This is not a fruitful way of viewing people, neither those being cared for nor those caring.

As an aside, it is not accidental, I don’t think, that we’re being encouraged more widely to conceive of migration in terms of an abstract army of small boats, similarly dehumanising the people in them and allowing us to distance ourselves from the circumstances that bring them there.

Good care stems from ensuring the wellbeing of carers, whether paid or unpaid, something the newly–introduced policy appears to wholly undermine, as we explore in our upcoming Theos report Love’s Labours. A vision of the care system – and of the economy – based on rediscovering the ‘mutual love’ that Kagawa dreamed of would recentre the importance of close relationships and connections to all parties in the care equation.

Recognising the value of close relationships to human wellbeing in this way would have a knock–on effect on good work and good care. If our loved ones are valuable enough to merit the best quality of care we can offer, whether medical, social or relational – and it should go without saying that this is the case – then we owe the same dignity to those we entrust to deliver it.

If everything in us shudders at the idea of being forcibly separated from those we love for the sake of a job, that is a natural reaction of us understanding what love means. We are short–sighted indeed if we have somehow gone from there to the point where we do not also shudder at treating care workers so unlovingly.


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 Image by Dragana Gordic on Shutterstock

Hannah Rich

Hannah Rich

Hannah joined Theos in 2017. She is a senior researcher working on theology and economic inequality. She is the author of ‘A Torn Safety Net’ (2022).

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Posted 18 March 2024



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