New points-based immigration system sparks alarm in social care sector

Author: Caroline White

The government’s new points-based immigration system is set to worsen existing staff shortages in the social care sector, health and care leaders have warned.

The new system, which takes effect from 1 January 2021, will focus on skilled workers, but in line with the government’s manifesto pledge there will be no specific route for low-skilled workers, many of whom work in social care.

The government’s own estimates indicate that around 70% of the existing EU workforce wouldn’t meet the requirements of the skilled worker route.

It wants employers to stop relying on cheap overseas workers, and become more productive, invest in technology, and do more to retain existing staff.

Under the new system, prospective employees would be awarded points for specific skills, qualifications, salaries or professions, with visas awarded only to those with at least 70 points. EU and non-EU citizens will be treated equally.

Skilled workers will still need to meet several relevant criteria, including the ability to speak English and be qualified to at least A level or equivalent. All applicants will be required to have a job offer, with a minimum salary of £25,600.

But Ben Gershlick, senior economist at think tank the Health Foundation said: “The government’s new immigration system looks set to make our social care crisis even worse. Without any specific migration route for social care workers, these proposals will make it almost impossible for people from overseas to come and work in most jobs in this sector.

“Migrants are a crucial part of the social care workforce. Around 17% of people working in adult social care in England are non-British nationals. In London it is more like 40%. With workforce vacancies currently at around 122,000, the social care system depends on staff from overseas.”

He added: “People working in social care should be valued for the major contribution they make to our society. This should involve investing in their skills and encouraging people to stay in the sector. While we have an upcoming workforce strategy for the NHS, any plans to address the workforce crisis facing social care are worryingly absent.”

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme this morning, Nadra Ahmed, who chairs the National Care Association, said it was disheartening that exemptions hadn’t been made for the social care sector as they had been for seasonal fruit pickers. It was going “to be a challenge” to recruit home grown workers to the sector, she added.

“We’ve been struggling with it thus far, and it’s going to be very difficult for us to do it at this moment in time… I’m not sure [we will be able to] as we can see providers, and responsible providers closing their doors, because they can’t get the staff, especially in rural areas,” she explained.

“If we could get workers from the UK, that would be ideal, but sadly the image of social care is very poor,” she said, adding that it didn’t help that workers were viewed as unskilled despite the invaluable end-of-life care they provided.

But announcing the new scheme, home secretary Priti Patel, said the government had listened to the clear message from the 2016 referendum and the 2019 general election and will end the reliance on cheap, low-skilled labour coming into the country.

“We’re ending free movement, taking back control of our borders and delivering on the people’s priorities by introducing a new UK points-based immigration system, which will bring overall migration numbers down,” she insisted.

Student visa routes will also be points-based and be open up to EU citizens. But those wishing to study in the UK will need to demonstrate that they have an offer from an approved educational institution, that they can support themselves financially, and that they speak English.