The Home Office’s Border and Immigration Agency (BIA) has been putting its foot in the mire over recent weeks on the issue of work permits for senior care staff. Although its recent about-turn on work permit extensions for senior care staff has to be welcomed it has come at quite a price.
Not satisfied with stating what level of qualification and experience care staff require to be granted a coveted work permit, the BIA has decided on minimum wage levels too. Senior care staff must be paid at least £7.02 an hour, it says. I wonder whether anyone from the BIA has told the Department of Health and instructed local authorities to ensure that they pay care providers enough to meet this expectation.
Government policy is to provide care in community settings. The independent sector can deliver this but to do so it needs more workers and there are not enough people in our resident labour force willing to work for the wages we can pay.
We also need people who can communicate with our service users, who have some sense of shared history and who understand aspects of our culture. Traditionally, like the NHS, we have recruited from Commonwealth countries or those with strong historical ties to the UK.
Now the government wants employers to recruit from countries in the European Union and from the European Economic Area. Although there is no doubt that workers from eastern Europe are available, there is real concern about their levels of language and communication skills and this has already led to problems in some care settings.
The independent care sector should be a special case in regards to employing overseas staff. There have been sector-specific schemes in the past to assist certain parts of the British economy and we need one now for the social care sector.
The government has continually shown it does not understand the independent care sector it certainly doesn’t understand how poorly we are funded and how difficult it is to recruit staff. Now it is making our lives even more difficult by imposing further restrictions on whom we can employ and setting wage levels which will drive many care providers out of business.
Mandy Thorn is independent care sector body the National Care Association’s representative on the work permits healthcare sector advisory panel, a consultative group of employers and employees.