Social care workers have been added to the shortage occupation list from today, in an effort for more migrant workers to fill the huge numbers of vacancies in the sector.
The government announced on Christmas Eve that the change would come into force early this year after the Migration Advisory Committee highlighted the “severe and increasing difficulties the sector is facing in terms of both recruitment and retention”.
In its annual report for 2021, the MAC said that care worker jobs should “immediately” be made eligible for the health and care visa and placed on the shortage occupation list.
Home secretary Priti Patel said on 24 December that the sector was “experiencing unprecedented challenges prompted by the pandemic”, adding: “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.”
Care worker shortages
Care workers from abroad will have to apply for a 12-month health and care visa and will need to have been offered a salary of at least £20,480 to qualify. They will be able to bring dependants, including a partner and children.
More than 100,000 vacancies exist in the care sector, a situation exacerbated by the regulation that came into force on 11 November, which along with the NHS is set to be reversed, for mandated double vaccinations for all frontline workers. Around 40,000 care workers are understood to have left the sector since then.
The government said that care workers would have to be paid at least £10.10 per hour, which is higher than what many workers in the sector currently earn.
Announcing the plans in December, health secretary Sajid Javid said: “It is vital we continue to do all we can to protect the social care sector during the pandemic and beyond.
“’These measures, together with the series of support packages announced since September, will help us ensure short term sustainability and success for our long-term vision to build social care back better.”
Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said: “Workforce is the biggest challenge for social care providers and putting social care staff on the shortage occupation list can help as an immediate solution to staff shortages. In the longer term, we need to ensure that we have enough money in the system to pay social care staff a good salary for the highly professional work they do.”
But Nadra Ahmed, executive chair of the National Care Association, said the process of recruiting overseas was not an easy. She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It is not a cheaper option. One provider was saying to me that they brought in 18 people and it was going to cost them in excess of £50,000 to do that.”
Ahmed also highlighted that the pay rate of £10.10 per hour set by the Home Office is above the national living wage. “Even at £10.10 we would struggle because we have got other [sectors like] retail who are paying more.
“That discrepancy of where we would start our domestic staff and where the Home Office has said the staff should be paid coming from abroad is also going to be a challenge, because we’re commissioned based on the national living wage. The fee that is paid to us by local authorities uses that as the baseline.”