Fit & Proper Persons

We have explored how care workers’ jobs are shaped by the legal rules which determine whether people are suitable recruits into care work jobs and also determine if people are suitable to remain in care work jobs. The phrase ‘fit and proper persons’ captures a wide array of skills, competencies, temperaments and so on, all of which specify the type of person that regulatory bodies and legislators want to see hired for work in the social care sector. On this page we discuss current issues around fit and proper persons in care work. From here, you can navigate to tables in which we identify relevant laws in EnglandScotland and Wales.

In February 2020, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans for new border controls using a points-based immigration system. This system will introduce stricter immigration rules based on skill level. It will also introduce a clear, salary-based boundary between “skilled” and “unskilled” jobs. As the threshold for a job to be considered “skilled” is £25,600, this suggests the UK government are defining care work as an unskilled profession. As care workers themselves have pointed out, this is a misguided and unfounded assessment.

In reviewing the law in this area, we have found that care workers are required to meet a long number of complex criteria in order to be deemed ‘fit and proper’. These include practical and quasi-medical skills for ensuring the health, safety and welfare of service users, as well as less tangible qualities around ideas of integrity and honesty. Not only are care workers required to work long hours in what can be intense or high pressure environments, they are expected to negotiate complex situations with skill, patience and the utmost respect for individuals for whom they care.

In spite of the complexity of the care worker role, and its importance as a profession, there remain longstanding recruitment issues in social care. The remainder of this page discusses the specific issues in social care, why these issues exist, and what is meant by the phrase, ‘fit & proper persons’.

What are the recruitment issues in social care?

Recruitment and retention problems are industry-wide in adult social care. The sector is currently dealing with high rates of turnover as employers face challenges in finding, recruiting and retaining suitable people. In England in 2019, 31% of care workers, including 41% of home care workers, gave up their jobs and labour turnover rates have been  increasing steadily since 2012/13 (Skills for Care, 2019). Such high rates of job dissatisfaction make the care sector the highest labour turnover sector in the UK economy (Hayes 2017).

The sector also has a significant gender imbalance, with far more women than men working in social care, and the care sector has difficulties in attracting men into the job. Research from Anchor Hanover found that 85% of men said they wouldn’t consider a career in the sector, while 35% of people thought that working in a care home was associated with being a ‘woman’s’ career’. These difficulties in attracting men to the workforce are a significant issue, especially given that the shortfall in care workers is expected to be 1.1 million by 2037.

Issues around the shortfall of care workers are also influenced by ideas about what makes someone ‘right for the job’ – the skills, aptitudes and attitudes which make for a good care worker. Employers have reported difficulties in finding suitably skilled individuals to take up care vacancies. Research from the DWP found that applicants’ personalities are important to whether they are successful, and that those described as ‘friendly’, ‘caring’ and who would ‘fit’ in with the rest of the staff were all important factors. It is important to recognise that although care work is sometimes thought of as ‘unskilled work’ (including in government policy), one of the key challenges faced by employers is finding people with the appropriate skills for the job.

Finally, it is important to consider the ways the Brexit is likely to affect issues of vacancies, turnover and shortfall in the care sector. For example, around 8% of the social care work in England is made up of EU Nationals – that’s 115,000 people whose status may be impacted by Britain leaving the EU.

Why are there recruitment issues in social care?

Alongside these difficulties in recruitment, increasing numbers of people are in need of care and support. Our population is ageing and improved longevity of disabled people means more people than ever before are living with long term health conditions. Greater demand for low-cost labour has contributed to high levels of employment vacancies in the care sector.

However, social care work is often not seen as an attractive option, and the low status and pay, as well as limited opportunities for career progression, may dissuade people from pursuing these kinds of jobs. Research from Skills for Care demonstrates that staff turnover rates are partly the result of difficulties in retaining younger workers, as well as people leaving the sector soon after joining. The report also makes the point that turnover is less of an issue amongst more well-paid care workers. This suggests that improving the pay of social care workers may have a positive effect on retention and turnover rates.

Some recruitment and retention issues are affected by the ways in which paid care work impacts workers’ homelives. We know that the majority of paid care work is performed by women. We also know that women are more likely to have unpaid care responsibilities outside of work, such as childcare or caring for older relatives. However, research shows how working in the social care sector is not always compatible with the demands of family life, with issues such as long and unsociable hours and inflexible shifts complicating the work-family juggle (Charlesworth et al 2015).

While recruitment issues are widespread across the care sector, it is important to recognise the ways in which these vary by region. In more rural areas of the UK, there can be a need to travel long distances, and care workers must be willing and able to do so. This can be a particular issue in circumstances where employers do not pay for travel time. Another example of region-specific recruitment issues is the requirement of some care workers in Wales to be able to speak Welsh.

Who are suitable people?

There are a number of criteria which care workers must meet in order to be deemed ‘fit’ for the job. Workers must be considered suitable in terms of their character. This can include criminal record checks and issues relating to their behaviour outside of work. This can also include considerations of emotional intelligence including excellent communication skills and the ability to adapt their mood according to any situations arising during care work. Due to the physically demanding nature of care work, workers must also be fit and able to perform manual handling tasks where required. They must be able to lift, carry and operate equipment, such as hoists and slings.

Research into care work has also demonstrated that racial stereotyping is a significant issue, and can impede people from BAME backgrounds from being hired. There have been reports of the ethnic and national backgrounds of applicants having been taken into consideration regarding their ‘fit’ for care work jobs, for example, employers assuming particular personality traits from applicants based on their ethnicity or heritage. There have also been reports of BAME people being siloed into particular kinds of jobs within the care sector, which can impede career progression and result in a lack of training and skills.

Others have argued that it is assumed that women ‘naturally’ have these kinds of care skills. This results not only in the huge gender imbalance in the sector, but also might be one of the reasons why it has been difficult for the care industry to establish formal standards of work.

Charlesworth, S., Baines, D. and Cunningham, I. (2015). ‘If I Had a Family, There Is No Way That I Could Afford to Work Here’: Juggling Paid and Unpaid Care Work in Social Services. Gender, Work and Organisation. 22(6), 596-613.

Hayes, L., J., B. (2017) Stories of Care: A Labour of Law. Gender and Class at Work. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

If you use any material from these web pages, we suggest this is cited as follows: 

Hayes, L., Tarrant, A. and Walters, H. (2020) Social Care Regulation at Work: Fit & Proper Persons. University of Kent. [Viewed date]. Available at: <URL>

This website is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute any form of legal advice and should not be treated as or relied upon for legal advice. If you require legal advice you should contact a qualified legal practitioner.