Our social care and health sectors are in the throes of the worst workforce crisis ever faced.
To help ensure high-quality care and support and to relieve the pressure on staff who work tirelessly to meet demand, it’s clear that social care in particular needs access to more workers than the UK can currently provide.
The figures are stark. The health and social care sectors carry more than 200,000 vacancies in England and our country’s ageing population, with increasingly complex needs, means there is and will continue to be record demand for services.
Projected growth of the population aged 75 years and over highlights that by 2035, the number of adult social care jobs in England could rise by 800,000 – which simply cannot be met by the UK labour market alone.
A look at the makeup of the adult social care workforce in England shows just how reliant on overseas recruitment we already are, with most of the 115,000 non-British EU and EEA nationals being frontline care workers.
Adult social care in England currently carries a national average of 7.8 per cent vacancy rate, increasing to 9 per cent in London.
There is also increasing evidence of the scale of unmet need in the current social care system, at around 1.5 million people going without care.
Even those who do receive care and support may not get what they need. It could be a young person with a disability, unable to access a job or training because there’s no one to help them get ready in the morning.
Or it could be an older person, having to make difficult choices about how to use the support she does have: should she ask the carer to help her in the bathroom or to help her eat?
Brexit has provided an opportunity for the government to reset the UK’s approach to immigration, and there is still time to get policy right for our country.
However, last month’s Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) recommendations for a new immigration system and the recent government policy statement fall short of what is needed.
Even professor Alan Manning, the MAC’s own chair, recognised that its recommendations would mean “slightly increased pressure on social care” despite “slightly reduced pressures on the NHS”.
The government has now announced some detail on its new points-based system for immigration. There is much more detail required, otherwise the most vulnerable in our society risk not getting the care and support that they need and deserve.
While the NHS may be firmly in the government’s considerations, there needs to be an equal, if not greater, acknowledgement of the requirements for overseas colleagues to work in the social sector, particularly as we await the delivery of the promised and desperately needed government plan for social care. Points should be allocated to this workforce and longer-term visas should also be provided. Care workers may be low-paid, but their value in providing fundamental care to society cannot be underestimated or unappreciated.
The government now has an opportunity to get immigration policy right for the UK.
We will continue to highlight the stark impact of these proposals, and ask the home secretary and her team to go further in bolstering the social care workforce.
Without our international colleagues, the sector will simply not be able to provide the quality and dignified care people need.
Danny Mortimer is the chief executive of NHS Employers and deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation