“Annoyed” care sector leaders were “blindsided” by draconian Tory immigration laws which risk a system already “creaking at the edges”, MPs heard.
The head of Care England accused ministers of rewriting visa rules without considering the “huge” impact on vulnerable clients and their families. This comes after the government unexpectedly announced that it would ban foreign nurses from bringing their families with them from next spring in a desperate attempt to curb immigration.
It sparked fears of an exodus of workers, leading to tens of thousands more vacancies. In a scathing broadside, Professor Martin Green, Care England’s chief executive, said: “We were particularly concerned, annoyed and irritated that (the rules) seem to have come without very much if any consultation with the sector.”
He said it would be “much better” if ministers “understood what the implications of these changes would be before they announced them”. As they did not, care providers were “all a bit blindsided by it,” he told MPs.
Prof Green said there is a “chronic shortage” of care workers, with some areas unable to meet the needs of those who need support. He warned the Government’s new rules could force foreign staff into other sectors, or to choose other countries instead.
He told the Health and Social Care Committee that the Government has put “very little emphasis” on increasing the homegrown workforce. Prof Green said: “I think the timing (of the new rules) is unfortunate. They haven’t got a really clear strategy on how they’re going to grow the homegrown workforce… there’s no strategy on this.”
And he warned the policy “has been driven by something completely outside the issue of health and social care”, adding: “It’s a classic case of policy driven by a headline, not by a need.” A drop in the number of workers would force more unqualified family members to care for loved ones, he said.
Skills for Care chief executive Oonagh Smyth told MPs that by 2035, it is estimated an additional 440,000 care workers will be needed to meet the needs of an ageing population. Latest estimates show there are currently around 152,000 vacancies, which is just under 10% of the sector’s workforce.
She said that international recruits have “significantly contributed” to capacity and added: “If we do reduce international recruitment it’s really clear we’re going to need to do more and really really importantly retain because it’s clear that demand will grow over the next few years.” It comes after Home Secretary James Cleverly said changes to visa rules are aimed at “curbing abuses to the health care visa”.
He told the Commons last week that around 120,000 dependents – usually children – accompanied 100,000 care workers in the year to September. A week earlier, Health Secretary Victoria Atkins told the same committee that the social care sector was “broadly relaxed” about the changes on dependants.