New Tory rules on work visas after Brexit do nothing for Britain’s social care crisis

Proposed new migration rules seem to be ignoring a mounting recruitment crisis.

On Tuesday, the government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) recommended that, after Brexit, the current £30,000 salary threshold for work visa applicants should be dropped to £25,600.

This will create more opportunities for highly-skilled workers to move to the UK at the start of their pay scale. But for sectors such as social care, the measures will be insufficient to avoid a crisis.

The MAC makes clear that the adoption of a new immigration system – in which EU nationals have to clear the same hurdles as those from the rest of the world – will reduce the size of the UK population. Whilst they predict that this will remove some of the strain from public services such as schools and the NHS, it will intensify pressures in social care.

A reduction in immigration coupled with an ageing population will result in more people in need of care with less people to provide it. Considerable numbers of non-EU migrants are already obstructed from working in the social care system due to not meeting existing salary thresholds.

One major recruitment service puts the average carer salary at around £18,000 per year, or less than £9 an hour. Although more senior-level, skilled roles would be made available by the planned threshold reduction, this will do little to offset the immense challenges the industry faces in recruiting low-skilled workers.   

According to a new House of Commons briefing, adult social care is facing ‘stark recruitment and retention challenges’, with an estimated 122,000 FTE vacancies. “This equates to a vacancy rate of around 8% for both the NHS and adult social care, compared with a vacancy rate of under 3% for jobs across the UK economy,” the briefing points out.

According to the Local Government Association, EU nationals constitute 7% of the social care workforce. Even with free movement, the sector struggles to ‘recruit and retain’ EU staff due to the issue of low pay. This is set to intensify dramatically once post-Brexit immigration controls come into practice, regardless of whether the government takes heed of the MAC’s proposals.

In the words of Unison’s assistant general secretary Christina McAnea, the report’s proposals would not ‘allow a single care worker to come to the UK.’ Due to the low-paid nature of roles such as care worker, the recommendations will fail to address the staffing pressures felt in the sector.

These views are echoed by Dr Terry John of the BMA, who states that ‘the NHS and social care system relies on a wide range of staff,’ many of whom would still be excluded by a threshold. With social care already on the brink of crisis, the time for decisive action is now. The MAC’s report demonstrates a distinct lack of awareness of the devastating impact that immigration changes will have on the industry.

Research from AgeUK revealed that the absence of adequate care costs the NHS £500 a minute due to delayed hospital discharges. Increasing numbers of older people are living with unmet care needs due to a lack of adequate funding. With post-Brexit staffing shortages set to intensify these issues, it is vital that our new immigration system is built to avoid crisis.

However, the MAC asserts that the problems faced by the sector all stem from the failure to offer ‘competitive terms and conditions’, or in other words, decent wages. In other words, our immigration should not ‘adjust for’ the reality of low pay Britain.

It is of course of huge importance that social care is funded properly by the government. But until this is achieved – and the PM himself has admitted it may be five years away – we must do everything possible to ensure that those in need are provided for.

Cameron Boyle is a political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service.

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