• Establish a recognised volunteering scheme for care homes
• Make use of time, skills and experience that asylum seekers have
• Improve daily living for care home residents and asylum seekers.
In a nutshell
Why care homes? Because staff are under pressure and don’t have much time for leisure activities and conversation with residents. Opportunity to increase daily contact and interaction, and lift spirits of care home residents.
Why asylum seekers? Because they’re already in the UK and are held in limbo while their asylum claims are processed. Opportunity to deploy volunteers for interaction/activities that care home staff might not have time to provide.
Conversation and interaction are vital to the wellbeing of care home residents; they miss regular contact with children/grandchildren. Many asylum seekers in the UK are of working age, and half are under 25. Asylum seekers typically come from cultures where family ties are important; they have respect for parents/grandparents/uncles/aunts and miss these relationships. Many asylum seekers speak good English (a reason for coming to the UK); they’re keen to learn and improve their English to participate in education and training, put down roots in a community, join the workforce, and rebuild their lives.
Volunteering is well established in the UK. Care homes welcome volunteers, especially if they can make a regular time commitment; residents look forward to visits, frequent activities, and to seeing the same faces consistently.
Asylum seekers are allowed to volunteer: “It is Home Office policy to support asylum seekers volunteering for charities or public sector organisations” (April 2014 Asylum Policy Instruction, section 3.2 Volunteering). Volunteering mustn’t amount to unpaid work or job substitution.
Volunteering could provide a pathway to training/employment for recognised refugees. A government aim is to switch from reliance on overseas workers to training a homegrown workforce to fill skills shortages. After a minimum period of volunteering (4–6 months), taskforce volunteers could receive a certificate of volunteering; this could count for recognition with future employers/a training scheme.
Figures based on government data, the Office for National Statistics, the Refugee Council and Age UK:
• 17,000 care homes/400,000 residents; 165,000 vacancies in the care sector
• 140,000 asylum seekers waiting for an initial decision on their claim; 98,000 waiting more than 6 months for an initial decision
• Acceptances granted at initial decision: 98% for Syrians; 97% for Afghans; 97% for Eritreans; 51% for Iraqis; close to 75% acceptance overall
• 2.6 million people aged over 50 need care and aren’t getting any; councils are receiving 5,400 requests a day for care.
Tasks that a volunteer taskforce could undertake in care homes
• Conversation; interacting/‘buddying’ with residents; board games; painting/arts and crafts activities; music/singing/dancing; light exercise/yoga; sewing; reading to residents; gardening with residents
• Activities/entertainment that taskforce volunteers could enjoy organising: birthday parties; festive celebrations; games afternoons; film shows; tea dances; picnics; outings
• Accompany residents on walks in the garden/take wheelchair-bound residents into the garden; motivate residents to take part in activities
• Make teas/coffees; serve teas/coffees; assist with serving lunches and clearing up (subject to agreed scope of tasks)
• ‘Housekeeping’: keep public areas tidy (lounges, visitor areas); watering the garden; assist in kitchen/laundry room (subject to agreed scope of tasks).
• A recognised/structured scheme to increase volunteer numbers/provide a pipeline of volunteers for care homes
• A pool of people already in the UK; immediately available; have available time for regular volunteering to support a vital sector
• Low start-up and running costs: recruitment; screening/assessment; induction training; reporting/monitoring; expenses for travel costs to care homes; could offer monthly vouchers for mobile phone data/supermarket shopping as an incentive to volunteer
• Dispersal of asylum seekers from cities to smaller towns/coastal areas with high concentration of care homes; reduced high hotel costs of housing asylum seekers in London
• Making a useful contribution rather than being seen as a burden; will quickly learn/improve English to support stable integration into local communities; early cultural adaptation may alleviate physical/mental ill health (and associated costs of treatment).
For care homes and care home residents
• Regular/consistent/structured attendance from a volunteering scheme to reduce pressures on care home staff/free up staff time for core tasks
• Reduce loneliness/boost mood of care home residents; daily conversation with young people who have time to listen to them; engagement with new people from different backgrounds/cultures; stories and cultural exchange
• Increased interaction/stimulation could improve physical/cognitive responses of residents (including residents with dementia)
• Leverage the skills/experience of asylum seekers who may have been working/accustomed to looking after elderly family members
• After a period of volunteering, recognised refugees will be ‘job ready’ for training and to step full-time into the care sector.
For asylum seekers
• Can feel that they’re making a useful, positive contribution to the UK while their asylum claims are being processed
• Contact with local people to talk to/learn from; gain communication, teamwork and ‘people’ skills; gain confidence in speaking English
• Reduced time spent alone in hotel rooms (or outside with nowhere to go)
• Volunteering can boost mood and wellbeing/provide daily routine and structure to reduce stress/anxiety; use existing skills/experience; gain some agency over their lives
• Pathway into training and work; taskforce volunteers may be interested to progress into nursing and care sector careers if they gain refugee status.
Recruitment and deployment
• Recruitment from asylum seekers housed in hotels/holding centres (voluntary participation; no coercion/sanction if people don’t want to join)
• Minimum commitment one day a week; maximum 5 days a week
• Unaccompanied minors (aged under 18 and alone in the UK) could be considered for the taskforce (to combat loneliness/isolation)
• Psychological checks/security screening for participants (to address concerns about vulnerability of care home residents)
• Deployment in public areas of care homes (lounges, visitor areas, gardens); could assist in the kitchen/laundry room (subject to agreed scope of tasks).
Set-up and delivery
• A scheme/training could be designed/delivered through a government department/through organisations involved in the voluntary care sector
• Memorandum of Understanding/Statement of Principles to define the scope/tasks that taskforce volunteers may be asked to undertake; ensure that the tasks fall within ‘volunteering’ and not ‘volunteer work’
• Incentive payment to care homes to accept taskforce volunteers/cover extra costs: drinks/lunch for taskforce volunteers; oversight/reporting
• Induction training (centrally or at hotels/holding centres); could involve recognised refugees from the same communities as volunteers to help with cultural differences (how care homes work/dementia/dignity/privacy)
• Set up teams/coordinators for each care home; taskforce volunteers could self-organise to assign/rotate tasks based on skills/experience
• Trial the taskforce in care homes in one or two areas before wider rollout
• Reporting/monitoring to assess performance and success of the taskforce.
A volunteer taskforce of asylum seekers could be expanded further into the social care sector once trust in the scheme has been established: home visits to elderly people who live alone and might welcome asylum seekers for conversation/cultural exchange; visits to elderly people stuck in hospital beds. A volunteer taskforce of asylum seekers could be considered for other sectors of the UK economy with recruitment difficulties (hospitality) and where volunteering in a recognised scheme could be a path to training/employment.
The scheme could be up and running within a short timeframe, at low cost. Although the discourse around asylum seekers is difficult, public mood may be receptive given the impact of staff shortages on the health and social care sectors. The drivers for migration are complex; the opportunity for asylum seekers to join a volunteer taskforce is unlikely to be a ‘pull factor’ but could help some asylum seekers who are already in the UK from slipping into depression/the black economy while their asylum claims are being processed.
Asylum claims are accepted or refused based on international law/Geneva Convention (1951).
Asylum seeker: a person who has applied for asylum and is waiting for a decision on their claim.
Refugee: a person whose asylum claim has been accepted and is legally recognised as a refugee.
“There is no such thing as an ‘illegal asylum seeker’… The only way to establish whether people are refugees is through a fair and efficient determination of their claims.” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
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