Responding to the news that the Government plans to end visas for so-called low-skilled workers from overseas, the Independent Care Group said care of older and vulnerable adults would suffer.’
There are already around 120,000 unfilled vacancies in social care. Previous estimates have warned that there would be 115,000 fewer care workers from overseas if freedom of movement ended, by 2026.
By contrast, some estimates say an increasingly ageing population will need an extra 700,000 care workers by 2030.
The Group’s Chair, Mike Padgham warned: “This would be a devastating blow for social care and would lead to hundreds of thousands more people not getting the care they need.
“The truth is that we already have 1.5m people living without the care they need – a number that is growing every day. We need more care staff now and we are going to need many thousands more to care for an ageing population in the future.
“If the Government prevents the sector from recruiting from overseas, then where are these extra staff going to come from?”
Mr Padgham said the Government had failed to address chronic underfunding of social care which meant that the sector was in crisis.
“Now, if they put this upon us too, the situation is going to be unbearable,” he added.
“In reality, social care work is highly skilled, but because of a lack of funding in the sector, is not highly paid and so care workers will not meet the visa criteria, starving providers of the overseas staff they need to fill their shifts.
“This will heap further pressure on an already crumbling social care sector which will in turn pile more pressure on NHS healthcare, which will have to pick up the pieces when less and less social care is available.
“It defies belief and increases the urgency for the Government to tackle social care, starting with measures to support care in next month’s budget.”
Responding to the Home Secretary’s, Nuffield Trust Chief Economist John Appleby said:
“Migration has been a crucial safety valve for crisis-stricken social care services, with workers from overseas filling vital roles helping people with basic tasks like washing, dressing and personal hygiene. Stopping migration for social care risks pushing a sector on which many vulnerable people depend over the edge.
“Our own analysis shows that to actually provide help to everyone who needs it, as the Prime Minister has promised, we will need 90,000 more workers. Yet at the moment we have rising vacancies, even with rising numbers of European migrant staff. It’s no coincidence that Australia and other countries with points-based migration systems have found they need to make special exemptions for care workers.
“Increasing the wages of social care workers to make social care a more attractive career for domestic workers could be one answer. But with the sector on the verge of bankruptcy, this is a non-starter unless the government stumps up extra funding way beyond the extra annual £1 billion already pledged for this parliament. And this would need to be on top of money to reform or expand the help people are offered.”
Mario Kreft MBE, the chair of Care Forum Wales, has called on Home Secretary Priti Patel not to “close the door” on overseas workers at a time when the sector was already suffering because of a major recruitment crisis.
The new system – set to come into force in January 2021 – will aim to end visas for low-skilled workers and cut the overall number of migrants coming to the UK.
It will award points to applicants based on specific skills, qualifications, salaries, English speaking ability and professions, with overseas workers – including those from the EU – required to have the offer of a skilled job with an “approved sponsor” to come here.
The Government is also backing a recommendation from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to lower the salary threshold for skilled workers wanting to come to the UK from £30,000 to £25,600.
But Priti Patel is facing calls to grant special exemptions for those working in the social care sector in a bid to stave off staff shortages.
According to Mr Kreft, care homes, nursing homes and home care agencies in North Wales are facing a massive crisis with an estimated shortfall of 7,000 staff by the year 2026.
The new immigration rules would, he said, exacerbate the severe shortage of nurses and carers.
It would lead to loss of nursing home beds and the closure of care homes at a time when the number of over-85s in Wales is expected to more than double in the next 20 years.
Mr Kreft said: “This is something we have been warning about for a long time because it is clear that these proposals will have dire consequences for the social care sector and, more importantly, for the vulnerable people we look after.
“In recent years we have seen homes closing across Wales because their fragile finances just did not stack up because social care remains chronically underfunded despite it being such an important service.
“On top of that, we are having to contend with a debilitating recruitment crisis which will be even worse unless the Government have a change of heart in relation to social care.
“The way fees are calculated means that it is possible to earn more stacking shelves in a supermarket than it is to provide social care for our loved ones.
“We need to explode the myth that social care staff are low skilled – that’s not true. They are just lower-paid and that’s not fair.
“The new rules just do not make sense when you apply them to social care.
“One unintended consequence will be that it will place even more pressure on an already creaking NHS.
“Our social care providers currently underpin the provision in our hospitals but if more care homes, nursing homes and home care companies are forced out of business, an alternative provision will have to be made for them.
“In that case it’s s highly likely that these vulnerable people will end up in hospital when that is probably the worst possible place for them to be, leading to even more bed blocking.
“This change in immigration policy means that the social care sector will have to improve pay levels significantly to attract the home-grown staff needed.
“That would require more money to be injected into social care as a matter of urgency. Nobody has said where that extra money would come from.
“Putting responsibility on the providers to sort out a mess of the Government’s making is irresponsible. This is a disaster waiting to happen.”
Paul Morgan, Managing Director, Audley Group commented: “Roadblocks continue to be thrown across the path of companies, and people, working to support the growing ageing population in the UK. The need for specialist retirement properties is great, as is the need to support the struggling social care system. By introducing restrictions, the country risks thwarting the flow of qualified, skilled and dedicated workers into both sectors.
“Our 700 strong workforce, across care, housebuilding, hospitality, is one we are incredibly proud to invest in. Upskilling employees, with training and new apprenticeship schemes, is vital during this period of change and will support future growth and expansion for not just Audley, but the entire housebuilding and care industry. But that will not be enough. We will need the Government to make a commitment too. We have an ageing and low skilled workforce in the UK. We will do our best but they need to respond too.”
Peter Seldon, CEO, Consultus Care, the UK’s leading provider of private live-in care and nursing services said; ‘The news today outlining the government’s post-Brexit plans to prevent low-skilled workers from obtaining visas, presents significant challenges for the care sector.
‘However, the industry now needs to focus on offering career transition via induction and more advanced professional care training, including the various levels of Diplomas in Health and Social Care. This applies to specialist care areas too, for instance, Dementia, Stroke awareness, response and rehabilitation, Parkinsons, Diabetes, Palliative care.
‘Focus should also be applied to ongoing personal development and improvement for British citizens – instead of relying so heavily on foreign, principally eastern European workers. The care sector cannot solely rely on the existing pool of carers in the UK, as the numbers are simply not sufficient to meet the rising demand for care from the post WW2 ‘baby boom’ generation.
‘We need to re-establish respect for the caring profession from the public as a whole to make it a more attractive, critically professional career prospect – and that plainly means increasing standards overall and the changing attitudes to carers, their value and skills. There’s also a place for unobtrusive machine learning technologies in care settings as well as formal support networks for carers.’
The new immigration regime will be catastrophic for the health and social care sector warns social care lawyers Royds Withy King.
James Sage, Head of the Social Care team and a specialist employment lawyer at Royds Withy King said: “Although the Government has reduced the salary threshold from £30,000 to £25,600 per year, this will not enable care providers to recruit care staff from overseas. Significant and sustained underfunding of services by the Government makes it impossible for providers to increase pay rates to these levels.
“It is also of concern that the salary threshold makes no allowance for part-time staff, even if they earn the required amount on a pro-rata basis. In a sector that is heavily reliant on a part-time and predominantly female workforce, it will be particularly challenging to meet the salary threshold.”
The social care sector needs 128,000 new care workers every year and faces a shortage of over half a million workers over the next decade. There are similar shortages in the health sector.
“To remove access to staff from overseas without any coherent plan to recruit more UK staff to the sector is staggeringly short-sighted and could leave parts of the sector unable to find enough staff to continuing providing vital services to the most vulnerable in society,” says James Sage.
“We would urge the Government to re-consider a visa exemption for social care staff as it has done for seasonal workers within the agricultural industry. It should then immediately start work on an effective strategy for recruiting more UK staff to work in the sector to address the existing workforce crisis.
“If the Government wants to achieve its aim of driving up pay rates to attract more UK staff, and reduce reliance on EU staff, it will need to substantially increase funding to the sector.”
Watch select committee on Brexit and the labour market policy here