Who Cares?Alex Addington
On Tuesday 14th July 2020, the government released long-awaited details on their new immigration system headed by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel. The unveiling of the new points-based system was part of this government’s proposals at the turn of the year, however it had taken a long time for any of the relevant ministers to expand beyond the initial briefing. What the immigration sector received on Tuesday was not the level of clarity that many were seeking, however we did find some salient points of note.
Most significant, given the recent climate, were the requirements that are likely to have grave impacts for the care sector. Those in government were quick to take advantage of photo opportunities when clapping each Thursday to show their appreciation for care workers and those that worked in the NHS. Many of whom gave their lives in the struggle against this pandemic. However, those to whom politician’s appreciation was aimed are likely to bear the brunt of the new proposed legislation.
As the care sector currently stands, there is a shortfall of ‘122,000…(with) a growing demand for our services’ states Vic Rayner, the Executive director of the National Care Forum. The vacancies that Mr Rayner refers to fall within the definition of ‘low skilled work’ as defined by the Home Office. It was hoped that the Home Office would respond to the demand for workers in this sector, exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic and the spotlight on the lack of resources in this industry that has led to so many deaths. When proposals for the new system were made, it was stated there would be a fast track visa route for “Health Workers”. This led some to speculate that the government would recognise the valuable contributions that migrants made within this sector and reflect this in the structure of their immigration policy. However, in the 130-page document released by Priti Patel’s department, the relevant professions eligible under this route (included within Annex D) is notable for its omission of any reference of care home staff. In a statement released on the Home Office website, ministers explicitly state their ‘commitment to reduce overall migration numbers’ by not allowing a route for migrant workers that fall within this “low skilled category”.
The fast track ‘Health Worker’ visa route is an extension of the government’s Tier 2 General Worker Visa under the current point-based system. The most notable difference is that the new system will apply equally to EEA and non-EEA citizens. Any EEA citizen not living in the UK before 31st December 2020 and who seeks work in the UK will have to apply under such routes. Furthermore, the new system will not only apply to “highly skilled” migrants as did the previous, but also to “medium skilled” workers. This has meant that the monetary threshold for the route has been reduced from £30,000 to £25,600.
Whilst the above may seem like a loosening of restrictions, the proposed threshold still far exceeds the average wages of care home staff. James Bullion, vice-president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services echoes this sentiment, stating that the changes in the threshold ‘were largely meaningless in a sector where over a third earn the national living wage”. The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) conducted an independent report on behalf of the government as to the effects that the proposed system would have on this area of work. They stated that the workforce for the sector would reduce by 2.9%. This could be considered a conservative estimate, considering that 17% of the care workforce are migrants.
The government’s justification for this policy is that they want it to encourage ‘employers to invest more in training and development for care workers in this country’. This has been described as commendable, however somewhat cut off from reality, with the Guardian newspaper calling it ‘dangerous and delusional’. By preventing such a large percentage of a potential workforce from being eligible to work in this sector, Robin Hall, Secretary of Hampshire Care Association, warns that wages are likely to be driven up. This will mean there will be less staff per resident in such facilities, ‘greatly damaging the quality of care we can deliver’. The social care sector has been outsourced to private businesses significantly over the past decade. This means that the health of individuals in such settings is inevitably judged in tandem with profit turnover. This is the sad reality of the current structure and one that the government has seemingly ignored.
A change in policy like this is indicative of a government that does not show sufficient appreciation to the valuable roles that migrants play in our society. The strict stance from the Home Office has been laid bare, lets just hope it does not result in further tragedy!