Sector-wide condemnation as post-Brexit immigration plan cuts off entry to care workers

Points-based system will have 'potentially disastrous consequences' in high-vacancy sector and government suggestion that gaps be filled by UK workers earning higher wages rubbished

A sign saying 'immigration' at an airport
Photo: fotolia/asiandelight

Story updated 14 July 2020

Post-Brexit immigration plans that will cut off entry to care workers have been roundly condemned by social care bodies.

Local authority, provider leaders, unions and charities said the points-based system that will come into force in January 2021 would deepen the sector’s already grave workforce shortages, while it also drew a critical tweet from interim chief social worker for adults Mark Harvey, who said the country needed more not fewer care workers.

The government, which provided details about the scheme today, said it intended UK workers to join the social care sector, on the basis of raising wages; however, sector bodies said this was not realistic, with one describing it as “idiotic” given the rates paid to providers by councils.

There was also anger at the fact that the policy was announced in the wake of the sacrifices care workers have made during the pandemic – including, in at least 268 cases in England and Wales, their lives – that ministers have repeatedly acknowledged and celebrated.

The new system will replace free movement for workers from the European Economic Area (EEA) with a system that treats migrants from all countries equally, with the main entry route being restricted on grounds of salary, qualifications, defined skill level and domestic shortages in a way that blocks entry for care workers, and for most senior care workers. This is despite there having been 122,000 vacancies (7.8%), 77,000 of which were for care workers, in adult social care in England in 2019, according to Skills for Care.

How immigration policy excludes care workers

The new immigration policy will replace free movement for EEA citizens and the existing tier 2 visa system for skilled migrants from outside Europe with a points-based system for skilled workers entering the UK.

All such workers must have a job offer to do a role of at least the minimum skill level – RQF3, equivalent to A-level – and must speak English to an acceptable standard, earning them 50 points. The skill level alone excludes care workers, but not senior care workers.

To qualify for entry, people must also earn a further 20 points through having a minimum salary of £25,600 a year (pro-rated for part-time workers), or the going rate for their job if this higher, or through being in a shortage occupation, as defined by the government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), in which case they need only earn £20,480.

Senior care workers are not in a shortage occupation, while very few will earn £25,600, with the going rate for the job being £16,900.

Social workers do qualify under the system, as the profession is a shortage occupation and, in most cases, practitioners would satisfy the salary requirement.

‘Disastrous consequences’

Care England, which represents independent care providers, said the plans risked having “disastrous consequences”.

“Despite repeated calls from both adult social care and the NHS’ own representative bodies the government has failed to pay any dues to the sector’s specific needs thus leaving us out in the cold,” said chief executive Martin Green. “This is particularly worrying given the wider context of the instability which Covid-19 has placed upon the adult social care sector. The impending threat of the international workforce supply being turned off has the potential to destabilise the sector even further with potentially disastrous consequences.”

In its response, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services urged the government to think again, and provide a route to enable people to come to the UK to work as care workers, until such time as it had delivered on its promise to reform social care funding.

“Government must provide a sector-specific visa route enabling international recruitment into social care until such time that that reform and funding proposals have been agreed and implemented,” said president James Bullion.

“As a nation we cannot, and must not, go into what could be the most challenging winter in recent history for health and social care with further uncertainty about where our workforce will come from.”

‘Sacrifices’ unacknowledged

Bullion also highlighted apparent contradictions between the policy and social care workers’ sacrifices during the pandemic.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has shown true value of adult social care staff to our country. They have put their own lives on the line to deliver skilled and compassionate care to people of all ages. To label our staff as ‘unskilled’ does not reflect the sacrifices that have, and continue to be, made across the country.”

On Twitter, interim chief social worker Mark Harvey, who carries out that role within the Department of Health and Social Care while working as a senior manager in Hertfordshire council’s adults’ services, also criticised the policy.

‘Idiotic’

Questioned on the policy by Labour shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds in the House of Commons today, home office minister Kevin Foster said the government’s intention was to use UK workers – of which there was likely to be a greater supply due to the Covid-induced recession – and higher wages to tackle workforce shortages in the care sector.

“People will look at what has happened over the past few months and surely they will not think that our vision for the social care sector should be to carry on looking abroad to recruit at or near the minimum wage,” he said. “We need to be prioritising jobs in this country…We engage regularly with the care sector and we listen to what it says. Our priority is that in future these jobs will be valued, rewarded and trained for, and that immigration should not be an alternative.”

However, the United Kingdom Homecare Association’s chief executive, Jane Towson, described this reasoning as ‘idiotic’ on Twitter, given the rates paid to providers by local authorities.


Her view was echoed by UNISON, whose assistant general secretary, Christine McAnea, said: “The huge vacancies in care can’t be filled simply by using newly unemployed workers. This shows how little the government understands the scale of the task ahead.”

What will happen to existing workers from Europe?

According to Skills for Care’s data, 8% of jobs in England’s adult social care sector in 2018-19 were taken by European Union nationals, an increase of three percentage points since 2012-13, and amounting to 115,000 roles.

Existing workers from the EU, EEA (Norway, Iceland and Liectenstein) or Switzerland, or those whose family members are from those countries, can apply for themselves and their families to stay in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme, by 30 June 2021.

Those who have will have lived continuously in the UK for at least five years continuously – meaning that for five consecutive years you have spent at least six months of the year in the UK – can apply for settled status; settled status gives you the right to stay in the UK for as long as you like.

If you have not lived in the country for five years continuously you can apply for pre-settled status, which enables you to stay in the UK for five years, during which time you can apply for settled status.

Those with indefinite leave to remain need not apply under the scheme.

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