Grzegorz Wrzosek, UK finance director & head of UK Recruitment at Promedica24, explains how the new post-Brexit immigration Bill is impacting care providers and what can be done to tackle widespread workforce shortages.
The new post-Brexit Immigration Bill that went live in January this year has and continues to put immense pressure on social care providers across the country. In 2019/20, staff shortages were widespread, with 112,000 vacancies in the sector. The new rules have only further exacerbated the existing workforce shortages and make hiring new care workers from overseas virtually impossible.
Under the new points-based system, EU citizens, who haven’t resided in the UK before the end of last year, must apply for a visa to work in the country. When the Health and Care visa was introduced back in Autumn 2020, it was clear from day one that it was not for care workers as the government does not consider them to be ‘skilled professionals.’ Should they be added to the visa system, there are still a number of limitations. Some of the mandatory criteria include a job offer from an approved employer/sponsor and a minimum annual salary of £25,600. All of this has caused chaos for providers who were once reliant on a workforce predominately from the EU.
We need to remember that as much as education is important, care is more a vocation than a regular occupation. A career in social care isn’t for everyone. The variety of roles on offer require people to display qualities such as empathy, kind-heartedness and emotional resilience if they are to support the needs of older and vulnerable people.
Research from Skills for Care estimated that of the 1.54 million people working in the care sector in 2020, 84% were British, 7% were EU nationals and 9% were non-EU nationals. However, the situation is very different for the live-in care sector. The UKHCA estimated that EU nationals make up 50-60% of the 15,000-20,000 live-in home care workforce, with recruitment and retention in the sector more challenging than ever before. This suggests that live-in care providers face the greatest recruitment challenges in the adult social care sector.
Promedica24 has campaigned for over a year now for a review of the immigration system and called for care workers to be added to the shortage occupation list. The government insists there are enough UK residents to meet the growing demand for care workers, but the reality is that once all hospitality and entertainment venues open back up again, many people will flock to these roles leaving an even greater gap in the recruitment for care workers.
Evidence suggests the pandemic has spurred people’s interest in social care roles, but it doesn’t distract from the reality that it takes time and resources to recruit and train new care workers, both of which have been stretched to their limits over the past 18 months. It’s difficult to understand why the government is so insistent on implementing policies that create challenges for the social care industry and its workforce, who have worked tirelessly to protect and keep people safe from Covid-19. The government has failed to address the workforce crisis, and the sector is still missing a long-term workforce plan that acknowledges the significant demand for experienced and available care workers.
What does this mean for care providers?
From 1 July, it has become much more difficult for care providers to fill their vacancies, running the risk of leaving families and their loved ones without the care and support they deserve. Latest estimates show that the adult social care vacancy rate has decreased during the pandemic. This is likely due to the closure of the hospitality industry, however we believe workforce shortages will rise again in August once all businesses are allowed to open their doors on what has been dubbed ‘freedom day’.
Without an available and experienced workforce, care providers are unable to deliver care to all who need it. Families and their loved ones may have to turn to other services that aren’t suitable or their preferred option. With live-in care being the service of choice for many people, it will leave them without support and the freedom to decide which care option is best for them.
What needs to be done to tackle the workforce shortages?
The government should develop a system that recognises the extensive training, experience and skills the EU care workforce has to offer, whilst appreciating the difficulties providers are experiencing in recruiting and retaining staff. The decision to add senior care workers and domiciliary care managers to the shortage occupation list should be extended to all social care staff. Relying only on UK citizens to fill the vacancies is an unrealistic expectation and care providers will continue to struggle until the government acknowledge the current skills gap.
The new immigration policy has created additional costs for employers who want to recruit from the EU. Sponsoring an employee can cost over £2,000 per person and obtaining a visa can take upwards of two months. The government should consider reducing both to prevent the cost of care services rising, as ultimately any new expenses will end up being passed to the end client.
The agricultural industry currently uses a Seasonal Worker Visa which allows people from overseas to come to the UK for up to six months to work in farming. Replicating this system for care workers, although not an ideal solution, would give providers the flexibility they need to meet the short-term demand for care staff and reduce some of the pressures on the current workforce.
Care providers across the country will be eagerly awaiting the Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) findings on the impact ending freedom of movement has had on the sector. We have to bear in mind that it will take at least five months for the MAC to issue its report. Ultimately, the government may decide not to take the MAC’s advice as it did in September 2020, but later changed its mind and added senior care workers to the shortage occupation list. So, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, we just hope for this tunnel to be much shorter.