The government must scrap ‘catastrophic’ new visa rules aimed at migrant care workers, say UNISON and the National Care Forum (NCF).
In a letter to health and social care secretary Victoria Atkins, the two organisations warn of the ‘devastating impact’ of the ban on overseas care staff bringing dependents to the UK, as announced by the government earlier this month.
UNISON has written the letter jointly with the NCF – which represents thousands of not-for-profit care and support services – to highlight how the policy will undermine essential care services for millions of families.
The letter says: “These announcements appear to have been made without proper planning, consultation or information, resulting in ministers giving contradictory and confusing explanations.”
Home secretary James Cleverley is criticised in the letter over his comments that overseas staff are displacing UK workers from care jobs.
The letter states: “This attempt to justify the visa policy is patently untrue.”
Data outlined in the letter show there are currently 152,000 unfilled social care posts in England alone, the highest vacancy rate of any sector in the economy.
Low wages are a major factor. But UNISON and the NCF say in the letter that remarks by Home Office minister Chris Philp that next year’s rise in the minimum wage would ease the job crisis in the care sector are ‘nonsense’.
The lack of a clear plan for workers with dependents already in the UK is concerning, say UNISON and the NCF.
The letter states: “Migrant care workers face Christmas in limbo, worrying about what will happen to their families when they renew their visas or change employers. Many are already expressing regret about coming to the UK and making plans to move to more welcoming parts of the world.
“The social care sector simply couldn’t function without overseas staff. Its workforce has always contained a sizeable proportion of people from beyond the UK. Recruiting from other countries has been actively encouraged by the government too.”
UNISON and the NCF go on to warn that this major change in policy will cause ‘unnecessary concern’ to those who need vital support and their families, as well as ‘huge costs to organisations providing care.’
The letter adds: “The government has produced no evidence to support its claim that migrant workers without dependents will still come to the UK. If ministers are wrong, thousands of people will be unable to access the social care they desperately need.”
UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “The care sector will grind to a halt without staff from overseas. Next year’s rise in the minimum wage might help a little but pay rates in care will have to increase significantly for the sector’s recruitment crisis to ease.
“The government’s draconian policies risk driving migrant care workers away. Overseas carers have been treated appallingly by ministers. Many sold everything to fund their move to the UK. Now migrants are essentially being told they’re no longer welcome.
“To make matters worse, all this happened without a word to anyone in the care sector. Social care requires a major fix, but this is certainly not it. Without migrant staff, care homes could close and support disappear for the vulnerable living in their own homes. Ministers must rethink this cruel visa plan before permanent damage is done.”
NCF chief executive Professor Vic Rayner: “Singling out care workers for restrictions on bringing dependents into the UK seems unfair on international care workers. It’s also counterintuitive in a climate where workforce shortage is recognised as the primary stumbling block to the delivery of an integrated health and care system.
“The UK government has to understand that we are part of a global care economy. Every time we make it more difficult for care workers to bring their skills and expertise to the UK, we are losing a lifeline for someone receiving care and support.
“The provisional local government finance settlement announced this week makes it crystal clear that there will be no additional funding to enhance the terms and conditions of the domestic workforce. Therefore, this divisive approach to vital international care workers is even more concerning.”
Notes to editors:
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.
– The National Care Forum brings together more than 170 of the UK’s leading social care organisations, representing large numbers of care providers, offering thousands of services across the country, which are not for profit and always at the heart of community provision. Collectively, these organisations deliver more than £2.3 billion of social care and support to more than 277,000 people. The NCF membership body collectively employs more than 124,000 staff and 14,000 volunteers.