Government bar on overseas care staff bringing over families sparks workforce concerns

Home secretary James Cleverly insists measure will not have adverse impact on workforce but sector bodies sound alarm given critical role of immigration in bringing down social care vacancy numbers

Care worker putting a bandage on a man's arm in his home.
Photo: dglimages/Adobe Stock

Government plans to prevent overseas care staff from bringing family members with them to the UK risks worsening the sector’s already significant staff shortages.

That was the message from sector bodies yesterday after home secretary James Cleverly announced a raft of policies designed to cut annual net migration from a high of 745,000 in 2022.

This included a bar on care workers who take up jobs using the health and care visa bringing dependants with them, as they are currently permitted to do.

It will also prevent providers who are not Care Quality Commission-registered from sponsoring workers, in response to significant concerns about workers being exploited by recruiters running fake care agencies. The changes will come into force next spring.

The government said that, in the year to September 2023, it issued visas to 101,000 care workers and senior care workers, and to 120,000 dependants accompanying them, about a quarter of whom were in work.

Overseas care staff instrumental in cutting vacancy levels

Overseas staff were instrumental in a slight reduction in adult social care vacancies – from 164,000 to 152,000 – and increase in filled posts, from 1.615m to 1.635m, between March 2022 and March 2023.

During that time, 70,000 overseas staff were recruited into direct care roles by independent providers in England through the health and care visa, many more than the 20,000 year-on-year increase in filled posts across the sector as a whole.

Cleverly told the House of Commons yesterday that he did not envisage that the measures would have a negative impact on the social care workforce.

International recruitment ‘displacing British care staff’

He claimed overseas staff were displacing British workers, as the number of people coming in on visas was less than the overall increase in the workforce last year.

James Cleverly

He also said the government suspected that there was “significant surplus demand” from overseas staff to work in the UK care sector.

This would mean that anyone dissuaded by the restrictions on bringing in dependants would likely be replaced by someone without family commitments, he added.

“So, we don’t envisage there being a significant reduction in demand because of the changes that we’ve made, but it will mean that we have the care workers that we need but not the estimated 120,000 other people who have, in the most recent year, come in,” said Cleverly.

However, his confidence was not shared by sector bodies.

Government ‘severing lifeline’ for sector

The Care Provider Alliance (CPA), a coalition of 11 representative bodies across all provider sectors, said the government was “severing the lifeline of international recruitment”.

“This is currently the only option we have to maintain and increase workforce numbers, as recruitment in the UK remains challenging,” said CPA chair Jane Townson.

“If care workforce numbers fall and providers cease to operate, unmet need will escalate. Not only will this lead to individual and family suffering, but it will increase pressure on council and NHS services and further extend waiting lists.”

The Care and Support Alliance (CSA), which represents over 60 charities for older people, disabled people and carers, issued a similar message.

‘Action needed to make care roles attractive to UK staff’

“Too many people in need struggle to access good care as it is, and the risk is that today’s announcement will make the situation worse,” said CSA co-chair Caroline Abrahams, who is also charity director of Age UK.

“It is facile for any policymaker to suggest that there are ample numbers of people already based here to fill the gaps in the social care workforce, without also agreeing to the action needed to make these roles more attractive domestically in terms of pay and conditions.”

In his autumn statement last month, chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced a 9.8% rise in the national living wage, from £10.42 to £11.44 an hour, next April, a move which will benefit many thousands of care staff.

However, Townson warned that, without extra funding, councils and NHS commissioners would not be able to pay providers sufficiently to cover the rise.

Latest call for more investment into sector

Both the CPA and CSA urged the government to significantly increase adult social care funding to reduce the sector’s reliance on migration.

The government’s response to the many such calls it has heard over recent months is to point to £8.1bn it has made available to councils to invest in social care from 2023-25.

However, £1.6bn of this is reliant on authorities raising council tax by the maximum permitted amount and about £1.3bn is expected to be spent on children’s services.

Social care was spared further restrictions on immigration that will apply to other sectors. People with a health and care visa will be exempt from a sharp increase in the minimum salary required of skilled migrants from next spring, from £26,200 to £38,700.

Currently, care workers and senior care workers are allowed to come in on a reduced salary – £20,960 – on the grounds that they are on the government’s shortage occupation list (SOL).

As part of his announcement yesterday, Cleverly announced a review of the SOL to reduce the number of occupations it covered.

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7 Responses to Government bar on overseas care staff bringing over families sparks workforce concerns

  1. Chris Sterry December 5, 2023 at 3:48 pm #

    Home Secretary James Cleverly MP is not as ‘cleverly’ as his name could suggest, for he fails to understand the problem, well he is not the only one for no Home Secretary has or has no wish to understand.

    The women coming from outside of the UK will be coming from countries where culturally women are generally seen as the responsible adults to look after their children, so leaving them behind to come to the UK to care for others is something which may not appeal to them. When we desperately need them to cover the carer shortages in social care and to some extent, the shortages of NHS staff in the NHS, but social care has to be the priority.

    But, the shortage of staffing is not a problem due to insufficient people coming from outside the UK for that is a much-needed advantage. The real problems are the state of social care in the UK, mainly the totally too low pay rate of social care workers, even the increased rate from 1 April 2024 of £11.44 is still nowhere near the required amount for it needs to be a starting rate of £15 per hour. While, pay is a major consideration there are many more being

    sufficient travel expenses not just mileage, but travel time,

    a proper sick pay arrangement and not reliant on the Statutory Sick Pay, which again is far too low,

    proper recognition of holidays, especially Bank Holidays, and much more

    Now, while most care workers come from the private sector by employment of Care Homes or in home care, care providers the real payments come from Local Authorities, (LAs) in either Care Home fees or payments to care providers. There are some self-funders but not that many compared to the number of nonself-funders and also in home care people in need of care employing their own carers through either LAs with Direct Payments or from health with Personal Health Budgets or a mixture of both. However, LAs have been deliberately been kept short of funding due to enforcing Austerity Cuts imposed by Tory Governments since 2010.

    Until LAs are given sufficient funding so they can pay Care Homes and Home Care providers sufficient funding to pay workers £15 per hour and all the other areas the staff shortages will only get worse and so much more so now down the Cleverly, so not very clever on him and the rest of the Rishi Tory government, but even a Starmer government won’t be any better.

    So pain and suffering and many more deaths will occur in Care Homes and in homes of people receiving home care, perhaps many more so than during the recent COVID pandemic and any more pandemics sure to come.

    For even after COVID the lessons won’t be learned for they never are for there is no willingness to learn by any governments, they just ‘Carry on Regardless’ should be made into a film.

  2. Anonymous December 5, 2023 at 4:07 pm #

    What is wrong is getting people from outside to come here as cheap labour. If pay within the sector was competitive then they wouldn’t be any shortage of staff. People are staying away from these jobs because they can’t afford to sustain themselves and their families. You work hard and get taxed like extremely your take home pay is even sometimes a joke. Social workers are abused by the system they worked throughout COVID but never paid a penny like nurses.

    People are choosing better paid not too stressful jobs for their own wellbeing.

  3. Essy December 6, 2023 at 2:09 am #

    A social care worker who is in the UK with the family will be more settled mentally and will be more productive that the one whose family is back home.The person with his family in UK will spend most of the money earned in the UK unlike one whose family is back home and he has to send like three quoters of his salary back home.Come on Mr. Cleverly,let’s put our heads together reconsider negative impact your decisions will create to overseas families as well as UK economy

  4. Tony M December 8, 2023 at 10:11 am #

    Like so many Governmental announcements, in order to understand why they are bringing in the change you need to follow the money.

    Despite Cleverly’s claim that there are plenty more fish in the sea, unencumbered with family commitments, it seems inevitable that there will be a drop in applicants for UK care jobs. Moreover, these applicants are likely to be less committed to maintaining a career in Healthcare- without mouths to feed except their own, they have the luxury of being able to hop to better-paid employment at the first opportunity.

    Employers will therefore have to try to out-bid their rivals in the job market in order to attract sufficient numbers of successful applicants, and due to the workforce being less committed, will also incur increased recruitment, employment and training costs. (To see if I’m right, keep an eye on workforce retention figures over the next year or so).

    Equally inevitable is the outcome, which will be that employers react by increasing wages and salaries. There’s only so much that can be attained by offering better terms and conditions, so it is the wages and salaries that will differentiate one employer firm another in the applicant’s eyes.

    Wages costs therefore increase, but how does this benefit the Government?

    Given that it looks increasingly likely that the next Government is likely to be a Labour-led one, is there an element of handing over a poisoned chalice in the latest announcement? Call me cynical if you wish…..but the impact of the changes won’t be felt for a year or so, so won’t negatively impact the incumbent administration.

    Labour, however, will inherit a poorly functioning marketplace, where the independent providers upon who the market relies to deliver care will see margins squeezed further. Any pressures in that direction increase the likelihood of provider failure or withdrawal from the marketplace.

    James Cleverly might be scheming to hand over problems for his successor.

    • Da December 9, 2023 at 9:26 am #

      This program well intended is hijacked by criminals. Exploiting immigrants. They’re charged enormous amounts of pounds to issue sponsorship documents. Sometimes without job. Government reviews and intervention is very important

  5. Ryan Webb December 8, 2023 at 8:39 pm #

    Why has Britain become so dependent on women from impoverished countries to sustain its care sector?

  6. Scott December 10, 2023 at 1:01 am #

    Being a care assistant transcends being able to provide care. It comes with compassion and patience. Some locals will not do the job even if it’s increased to £20 per hour.

    Go to care homes and hospitals and see how short staffed they are.

    This is a bad decision when other Western countries are trying to lure carers into their country