The government’s Christmas Eve announcement that it will relax immigration rules for care workers – to bolster a sector double hit by the pandemic and Brexit and left struggling to keep and attract staff – has been denounced as “a sneaky admission of failure” by the Labour party.
High vacancy rates and staff turnover is being exacerbated by the Omicron variant, putting even more pressure on a stressed and depleted workforce, which has lost more than 40,000 staff since the summer.
To address the crisis the government today announced it will add care workers to the ‘shortage occupation list’ and offer foreign carers a 12 month visa (subject to earning at least £20,480 salary) to work in the UK, following advice from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC).
“Sneaking this announcement out on Christmas Eve is an admission of failure from the Conservative government that they don’t pay carers enough to recruit or retain the staff we need, and have failed to tackle this building problem for years,” tweeted Wes Streeting, the shadow health and social care secretary.
Streeting continued: “Labour will ensure care workers get the pay, terms and conditions they deserve, tackle high vacancy rates, and transform training to improve the quality of care.”
‘Brexit pulled the rug from under the care sector’s workforce’
The MAC “an independent, non-statutory, non-time limited, non-departmental public body that advises the government on migration issues”, funded via the Home Office – looked into the impact of Brexit and ending freedom of movement. In mid-December, the MAC –called for the visa changefor foreign care workers to be made “immediately” in order to address the “severe and increasing difficulties” the care sector is facing over staff recruitment and retention.
“When Boris Johnson delivered Brexit he pulled the rug from under the care sector’s workforce,” said Liberal Democrat health and social care spokeswoman Daisy Cooper. “Now, the paltry offer of a one-year visa will likely fail to attract the numbers of care workers we so desperately need.”
All front facing care home staff have to be double vaccinated (since November 11) and figures reported by the Guardian show more than 40,000 workers have left the care sector in the last six months.
The new care worker visa will also allow families to move to the UK, and offers, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said, a path to settlement in the UK while a government website states: “If your job is on the list, you can be paid 80% of the job’s usual going rate to qualify for a Skilled Worker visa”.
Patel – ‘The changes we’ve made will alleviate pressures currently experienced’
Health secretary Sajid Javid said the change in status for foreign care workers seeking visas to work in the UK will help “ensure short term sustainability” of the care sector.
Javid urged all care staff to get a vaccination boosted jab while Priti Patel, the home secretary said: “The care sector is experiencing unprecedented challenges prompted by the pandemic and the changes we’ve made to the health and care visa will bolster the workforce and help alleviate some of the pressures currently being experienced.”
The boss of the UK’s biggest charitable care provider earlier called on local authorities to show how they would support care homes should staff shortages worsen even further. Sam Monaghan, the chief executive of MHA said care providers that although they have contingencies in place and staff covering shifts, but added, “we have to be assured that if the worst happens and we don’t have enough people to care for our residents safely, that there are plans in place to support us.”