‘Irresponsible’ plan to scrap low-skilled visas could heap pressure on social care sector, ministers warned
Ministers have been warned not to “close the door” on overseas social care workers amid claims the Government’s major immigration shake-up could lead to fresh staff shortages.
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.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has urged businesses to “move away” from relying on “cheap labour” when the overhaul comes into force, and promised the new system will help the UK attract the “brightest and best”.
But the Government is facing calls to grant special exemptions for those working in the social care sector in a bid to stave off staff shortages.
Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: "We are concerned that these proposals from the Government will not meet the health and care needs of the population.
"They close the door to lower-paid healthcare support workers and care assistants from overseas, who currently fill significant numbers of posts in the health and care workforce."
The UK Homecare Association, which represents care providers in the UK, meanwhile said: "We are dismayed by the decision Government has made.
"Cutting off the supply of prospective careworkers under a new migration system, will pave the way for more people waiting unnecessarily in hospital or going without care.
"Telling employers to adjust, in a grossly underfunded care system, is simply irresponsible."
That view was echoed by Christina McAnea of Unison, whose members include those working in the sector. She said the plans could "spell absolute disaster for the care sector".
Research by the King’s Fund think tank estimates that there already more than 100,000 vacancies in the adult social care sector, with around 9% of care worker roles unfilled.
The organisation’s director of leadership and organisational development, Suzie Bailey, said: “While it’s positive that the government recognises the need for overseas workers to help plug the significant gaps in the NHS workforce, there is a disappointing lack of consideration given to social care.
“The NHS workforce is only half the story; with more than 120,000 vacancies in social care, many people are struggling to access the support they need to live independently and avoid long stays in hospital.”
She added: “In the absence of supportive immigration policies, the social care sector would need to significantly improve care worker pay and conditions to attract more home-grown staff. That will require an immediate funding boost, a comprehensive plan for sustainable staffing, and for the Prime Minister to deliver on his commitment to “fix social care once and for all.”
The Federation of Small Businesses - which represents smaller firms - meanwhile said it could “see the benefits of a points-based model” so long as it was “easy to use and affordable”.
But the FSB’s national chairman Mike Cherry added: “Against a backdrop of stifling skills shortages, sluggish economic growth and an ageing population, it’s critical that we get this right, particularly as the timeframes are so short.”
And he said: “It’s right that additional points are awarded for those with skills relevant to industries struggling with shortages. However, there are also many jobs in the care and construction sectors that may not meet skill requirements but are essential to our economy and society.
“That’s why we’re proposing a new dedicated social care visa, in recognition of the chronic personnel shortages in this crucial sector and the fact that it will take 15 years for us to train enough UK citizens to address those shortages.
“Ultimately, small firms want a responsive immigration system that is alive to the skills shortages – at all levels – that are holding them back.”
Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said: "Getting a new immigration system right on day one will be critical for economic growth and the UK's global reputation as it forges a new path outside the EU.
"Several aspects of the new system will be welcomed by business.
"Nonetheless, in some sectors firms will be left wondering how they will recruit the people needed to run their businesses.
"A regularly reviewed shortage occupations list, with promises of further flexibility, will be vital for the effectiveness of the new system.
"Above all, the Government must work with employers and employees - especially smaller firms - to ensure they have the time to adapt to new policies and practices."