The social care industry is, by now, used to not getting a mention in major government announcements. But when the Home Secretary released details of the new immigration rules last week, it felt like a kick in the teeth.
Not only did care not get a mention in Priti Patel’s plans, but the proposals to prioritise individuals with the “highest skills” and those earning a salary of more than £25,600 seemed to reinforce the popular belief that low pay equals low skill.
This came as a huge insult to care workers providing care at all hours, in all weathers and in challenging circumstances to enable people to live their best lives possible. And it came as a major blow to providers who are desperately trying to re-establish respect for the caring profession from the public and to make it a more attractive career prospect.
There is no visa on offer for care workers when the new rules come into play in 2021, and the Home Office doesn’t seem to be moving to feature the vocation on the Shortage Occupation list, which would be the last resort for the sector to be able to hire talent from overseas after Brexit.
So where do we go from here? One home care provider told me that the industry now needs to focus on raising standards by investing in advanced professional training in order to change attitudes towards carers, their value and skills. But training is an expensive business, especially for providers who rely on dwindling government funding. According to UKHCA, it costs around £2,500 per person to hire someone and provide induction training.
What the sector needs is to lobby for an urgent rethink on the new immigration proposals. Social care organisations such as the National Care Forum say the system needs to use the points-based system to award extra points for care worker roles and provide a three-year visa for these professionals.
Care England believes the salary threshold should be set at £15,000 and the National Care Association says the system must adjust skills and salary levels to ensure that social care and health provision can be adequately staffed.
Whatever the solution, at a time when social care is urgently needed to keep people out of hospital and living independently at home, the government needs to support the sector, not reduce the value of it by labelling it as an unimportant and unskilled profession.