With around four hundred thousand elderly and frail people being looked after in residential care - a figure which by 2031 will almost double to three quarters of a million - the quality and standard of the care provided in our residential homes has never been more critical.
And so it's all the more worrying that a report by the Chief Constables of Cheshire and North Yorkshire to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith today highlights the crisis in UK which sees many of the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers being allowed to work in care settings without even the most fundamental criminal records checks.
The problem arises because there is simply no system in place whereby UK authorities can cross-check criminal records in the worker's country of origin. Of almost a quarter of a million migrant workers employed in the British care sector, nearly half of these provide care in the home or residential facilities. The European Union has been trying to set up a reliable system of checks since 2005, when a Directive was agreed where every member state would nominate an oficer to coordinate the sharing of criminal records. Yet to date the Labour Government has only set up pilot schemes, and then only in five UK counties. The new Independent Safeguarding Authority, which will come into being next year will still only flag up whether an individual has offended since coming to this country.
At a time when many of our frail elderly find their eyesight or hearing decreasing by the day, it's difficult enough to understand or be understood by a foreign care worker. That they also can have little or no confidence whether that person has a criminal record is nothing short of a national scandal.