Care leaders brand MPs ‘shameful’ over immigration bill vote

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Care organisations and unions have condemned “out of touch” MPs for voting in favour of the government’s controversial immigration bill.

The bill passed through the House of Commons last night with 351 votes to 252, a majority of 99.

It will now go on to further parliamentary scrutiny and it receives royal assent it will repeal EU freedom of movement and pave the way for the government to introduce a new points-based system that will deny visas to so-called “low-skilled” workers.

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The Migration Advisory Committee made recommendations for the new system in January, suggesting migrants will need to score points based on a range of factors, including qualifications, ability to speak English and a salary £25,600 or more.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the bill signals the government’s commitment to delivering a “fairer and skills led immigration system”, but trade Unison said that pushing ahead with the bill is a triumph of “bloody-mindedness over common sense”.

UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Hundreds of thousands of care jobs are unfilled, yet the government is intent on cutting off a source of skilled workers just when the UK needs them the most.

“The pandemic has taught us that low pay doesn’t mean low-skilled. Out of touch ministers measuring value only in pounds and pence – and decreeing that those earning less than £25,600 can’t contribute – clearly have never been to a care home.

“Migrant workers have proved themselves vital to the country time and time again. To slam the door in their faces now is shameful.”

The United Kingdom Homecare Association said it is calling for a post-Brexit migration policy which recognises overseas workers’ experience and value.

It has also urged home care providers to share their experiences in recruiting staff from overseas as part of a review of the Shortage Occupation List (SOL).

The Migration Advisory Committee has launched a six-week call for evidence, asking employers for their views on the roles that are being filled by migrant workers, the salaries they are paid and implications of potential changes.

The UKHCA said this is an “important opportunity” to advise the MAC of the need for social care to continue to be able to recruit staff from abroad.

Earlier this month, ADASS president urged the government to revise the draft immigration bill to recognise people working in adult social care as highly skilled professionals.

In a letter to the First Secretary of State, Dominic Raab, Ogley called for the bill to reflect the “true value and status” of care workers.

She said the response to the Covid-19 outbreak has underlined the “pivotal role” that colleagues in social care play in our communities. 

Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds warned that the new immigration system sends a signal that tells people that anyone earning less than £25,600 is “unskilled and unwelcome in our country”.

He added: “Those who clapped on Thursday are only too happy to vote through a bill today that will send a powerful message to those same people – that they are not considered by this Government to be skilled workers. Are shop workers unskilled? Are refuse collectors? Are local government workers? Are NHS staff? Are care workers? Of course they are not.”

James Sage, partner and Head of Social Care at law firm Royds Withy King, said the bill will deliver a “punishing blow” to the country’s social care sector.

He added: “The salary cap of £25,600 will exclude the social care sector from recruiting much needed staff from overseas for the foreseeable future and makes no allowance for part-time staff even if they earn the required amount on a pro-rata basis. In a sector that is heavily reliant on a part-time and predominantly female workforce it will be particularly challenging to meet the salary threshold.

“To remove access to staff from overseas without any coherent plan to recruit more UK staff to the sector is staggeringly short-sighted and could leave parts of the sector unable to find enough staff to continuing providing vital services to the most vulnerable in society.

“We would urge the government to re-consider a visa exemption for social care staff as it has done for seasonal workers within the agricultural industry. It should then immediately start work on an effective strategy for recruiting more UK staff to work in the sector to address the existing workforce crisis.”

Last week, The Royal College of Physicians said all international NHS and social care staff who have worked during the coronavirus should be given indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

The organisation, which represents 37,000 medical professions, called on the government to create a “new deal” for international health and social care staff that recognises their vital role in the frontline response to COVID-19 and the important part they will continue to play in the future.

Responding to today’s news, Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians said: “The Home Office should heed the concerns of health and social sectors. We need to make the UK a welcoming destination for international staff by reducing the cost and the bureaucracy associated with entering the NHS workforce.”

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Sarah Clarke

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