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18.11.15

Relax immigration rules to fix care worker shortage, urges charity

Restrictions on immigration and a failure to attract British workers will create a 200,000-staff workforce gap by the end of this Parliament, Independent Age has said today (18 November).

In a report, the older people’s charity warned that if the sector continues as is, it could face a shortfall of one million workers in the next 20 years. It follows warnings from the CQC that social care providers are being rated as inadequate primarily due to low staffing levels.

The charity’s research – based on analysis of population figures from the Office for National Statistics and workforce data from the National Minimum Data Set for Social Care – showed that one in five adult social care workers in England was born outside the UK.

Non-EU migrants account for the greatest proportion of migrants working in social care, representing around one in every seven workers. Greater London is particularly reliant on them, with nearly three in five of its workforce born abroad.

But social worker is not one of the careers included in the shortage occupation list, making it harder for employers to recruit staff from overseas. As a result, nearly one in 20 of positions in the care sector are currently vacant – almost twice the vacancy of the UK’s overall labour force.

Independent Age, in partnership with International Longevity Centre-UK (ILC-UK), is calling on substantial action to both attract more UK-born workers to the care sector and relax immigration rules to facilitate overseas take-up.

“Enabling migrant workers to fill workforce gaps is one part of the solution, but it is no silver bullet,” Ben Franklin, head of economics of ageing ILC-UK, said. “This will require substantive shift in the direction of policy as well as a change in public perceptions about what working in care is like. The alternative will be a degradation in the quality of care and an increasing reliance on family carers.”

Similarly to the ongoing nursing debate – which has recently pushed the government to temporarily lift immigration restrictions – the charity demanded that highly-skilled social care roles, such as therapists and social workers, should be added to the shortage occupation list. Opening up the Tier 3 visa route for migrants would facilitate applications for the remaining low-skilled roles.

Mending the care workforce gap would also require greater investment in training, apprenticeships and career development in order to make the sector more attractive for nationals.

Simon Bottery, the charity’s director of policy, said: “Without action, there is a real risk of care services worsening as providers fail to fill job vacancies and staff struggle to cope with increasing demand.

“We need to recognise the current reliance of social care on migrant workers and make it easier for them to work here, but also look to the sector’s longer-term future. The government must use the upcoming Spending Review to invest in social care so it can attract more UK workers, while at the same time exploring new ways of caring for our ageing population in the future.”

The LGA said that the findings were symptomatic of a wider crisis, with Cllr Izzi Seccombe, its spokesperson for community wellbeing, commenting: “A properly paid, skilled and managed workforce which attracts the best people relies on adequate funding for social care.

“Whilst the introduction of the national living wage aims to ensure fair pay, the cost of this to councils will reach £1bn a year by 2020-21 in a social care system which is already chronically underfunded.

“The government must urgently address this in the Spending Review for the thousands of people who rely on care.”

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