Proposals for a new immigration system could spell disaster for social care, unless the government introduces a sector-specific route, experts in the field have warned.
The Migration Advisory Committee said its recommendations, published today, would benefit the UK economy, but warned there could be a rise in pressures in social care because of a shortage of “low-skilled workers”.
MAC proposed that the government should reduce the salary threshold for immigrants to £25,600 – £4,400 less than the current salary threshold of £30,000.
Commissioned by the Home Secretary in June, the report said this would make it easier for teachers, NHS employees and people at the start of their careers to qualify.
However, the changes will “increase pressure” on social care.
Responding to the report, Nuffield Trust Senior Fellow Natasha Curry said the changes would be a disaster for social care.
“On their own, these proposals would make it almost impossible for people to migrate to work in most frontline social care jobs. That is alarming because care homes and other providers already have climbing vacancy rates, and our research shows tens of thousands more staff will be needed to meet the promise of fixing a system that leaves many languishing without support,” she added.
“The temporary one-year visa proposal mentioned for lower paid workers would make a bad situation worse in a sector where continuity of relationships and developing skills really matters.”
UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea agreed that reducing the salary threshold will not allow “a single worker” to come to the UK.
“The sector is already in crisis. Placing barriers to recruitment from overseas would cause it huge difficulties,” she said.
“Nor would the government’s idea of a one-year visa be any better. By the time care staff have arrived and settled into their jobs, it’d be time for them to leave.
“The government can no longer duck its responsibility to reform social care. If wages were increased and training improved, people who already live and work in the UK might start to see care as an attractive career option.”
MAC also recommended that the government’s proposals for an Australian-style points-based system should only be used when it came to highly skilled migrants.
It warned that this route “is not the appropriate one to use” to solve the problems the social care sector faces for “low skilled” workers.
“Talented individuals would register their interest in coming to the UK, with monthly invitations to apply drawn from this pool. This is in line with other points-based systems,” the report said.
The committee said it remains concerned about the “very real problems” in social care, but believes the root cause of the problems is the failure to offer a “sustainable funding model”.
In November, Care England, the largest representative body for independent adult social care providers, submitted evidence to MAC regarding its review.
It warned against the £30,000 salary threshold and said social care workers should be added to the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) “as soon as possible”.
But MAC said it does not feel it is the right time to review the SOL, adding that it may be that the list has “no place” in the future immigration system.
Responding to the review, Care England CEO Professor Martin Green said: “The recommendations of the MAC do not go far enough to meet the challenges of social care recruitment.
“We need social care to be seen as an essential service, just as the NHS is, and we need social care roles to be given high priority in any points based system, and we need the salary threshold to be set at £15k.”
Nadra Ahmed, chairman of the National Care Association said: “It is heartening to note that the committee has addressed the issue that social care needs special consideration, however, it is disappointing that they did not feel the sector should be one of the professionals singled out for special consideration within a future points based immigration system.
“We continue to be concerned that the challenges faced by social care providers in recruiting and retaining staff may remain a barrier to delivering care and support to vulnerable people.”