Carers need to be paid more to avoid pressure being piled on the social care sector after freedom of movement ends, Government advisers have warned.
The job needs to be made more attractive to British workers so employers do not rely on migrant workers to fill vacancies, according to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC).
Amid the “high public concern” over health and social care during the coronavirus pandemic and the “dramatic” change in the jobs market, the body which briefs the Government on immigration said visas for senior care workers and nursing assistants should be prioritised when the Brexit transition period ends.
The roles should be added to the shortage occupation list (SOL) – which helps migrants get work visas to fill jobs where there are shortages – to “relieve pressure when freedom of movements ends”, the MAC report said, as it warned of the “stark consequences of low wages in social care”.
Meanwhile a shortage in butchers, bricklayers and welders, which has led to them also being recommended for the list, was branded “extraordinary”.
Professor Brian Bell, chairman of the MAC which was commissioned to provide independent, evidence-based advice on migration, called for better funding so higher wages could be paid instead of relying on “migrant workers to fill the gaps”, adding: “The risks of this funding increase not happening in a timely manner are stark.”
Health and social care had “rightly” been of public concern during the pandemic and was “central to the frontline response”, he said, but the committee remained “particularly concerned” that the sector would “struggle to recruit the necessary staff if wages do not increase as a matter of urgency”.
Prof Bell told reporters: “The problems in terms of workforce in social care are not really about immigration, they are about the fact that wages are very low in that sector, often minimum wage, and that isn’t an attractive enough salary to attract resident workers in the UK.”
Comparing a £9.40 an hour shop floor wage at supermarket Aldi to £8.72 for “extraordinarily stressful and hard work” in care, Prof Bell said: “You have to be well above that kind of level that Aldi’s paying before you begin to attract workers,” adding that this should be “comfortably above £10” to start making a difference.
But senior care workers only make up a “small percentage” of the workforce, an estimated 10% or lower, he warned, while more general carer jobs cannot be added to the shortage list because they are not considered as part of the Government’s new immigration system to be eligible for skilled worker visas.
In light of the pandemic, the number of migrants coming to work in the UK has already decreased and there is likely to be a rise in unemployment over the next year as the economic impact of the virus takes hold, the MAC said, adding that it had been a “very challenging time to look at the Shortage Occupation Lists”.
As well as the UK-wide list, there are recommendations for the devolved nations to fill gaps in trades such as Gaelic teachers in secondary schools in Scotland and childminders as well as bakers, fishmongers and gardeners in Northern Ireland and health professionals in Wales.
Adding jobs to the shortage list is recommended where there is “clear evidence of staff and skills shortages which could be filled by overseas workers”.
This “loosens the constraints on hiring migrant workers” as it means migrants may be granted skilled worker visas for those roles even if they are paying slightly lower wages which are under the new points-based system’s minimum salary threshold of £25,600.
For example, senior care workers being offered £20,480 could still be granted a visa if the role was added to the list.
Sally Warren, director of policy at The King’s Fund charity, which works to improve health and care in England, said the recommendations provided “long-overdue recognition of the immense public value of social care roles” but warned that no-one “should pretend that these limited changes will resolve the long-standing issues with recruitment in social care”.
Dame Donna Kinnair, the Royal College of Nursing’s chief executive, said the proposed changes alone “won’t end the workforce crisis which threatens the safe and effective care of patients” as there were tens of thousands of vacancies.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s shadow home secretary, accused the Government of making a “complete mess” of immigration reforms, adding that considering carers unskilled “needs a serious rethink, before some of the most vulnerable people in our care homes are left without the support they desperately need”.
The Government said it would consider the report “carefully” before making final decisions, adding: “We’re helping the sector in a number of ways, including £1.5 billion more funding for adults and children’s social care in 2020-21 and a national recruitment scheme.”