Hot Take: Social care bears the brunt of immigration crackdown
Caring Times editor-in-chief Lee Peart assesses the implications for social care of the home secretary's crackdown on immigration.
It was no surprise when home secretary James Cleverly delivered on the government’s promise to clamp down on immigration this month.
Since their party conference in September, the Tories had been hinting that moves to stem net migration were on the agenda. These were fast-tracked when ONS figures in November revealed net migration at a record 745,000 in 2022.
With the Tories already lagging badly behind in the polls, these nightmarish statistics put the government under extreme pressure to act urgently in order to avert a bloodbath in next year’s general election.
And with social care having been a major driver in the influx of migrants, it was inevitable that the sector would be in the home secretary’s sights.
While 100,000 care workers played a leading role in filling the sector’s 152,000 vacancies in the year ending September 2023, they were accompanied by 120,000 dependants, only a quarter of whom were believed to be in employment.
It was these dependants who bore the brunt of the home secretary’s crackdown, as he announced they will be banned going forward.
To the general relief of the sector, however, social care was exempt from the rise in the overseas visa salary threshold by a third to £38,700 from spring 2024.
But despite this let off, operators fear huge damage will still be done by the ban on dependants as overseas workers choose to work elsewhere, exacerbating the already chronic labour shortages in the sector.
With social care generally perceived as toxic by politicians following previous calamitous attempts to forge reforms, which became branded as a ‘death tax’ or ‘dementia tax’, the sector was never going to fare well in the run-up to an election where minds are firmly focused on short-term gains.
As a long-term problem requiring major investment, social care is tragically ill-suited to politicians' slavish obsession with the short-term electoral cycle.
Instead of short-term, knee-jerk reactions designed to placate people’s fears of immigration, the sector needs politicians who are brave and far-sighted enough to take a long-term view and fix the structural workforce problems within the sector.
In the short term, the solution for the sector is actually blindingly obvious. Instead of cutting off access to overseas workers, the government should immediately provide significant funding to local authorities so they can pay care workers a fair wage and attract more domestic staff.
The next step should be formulating a long-term workforce plan, which would put social care workers on an equal footing with NHS staff in terms of salary and career progression opportunities.
We can only live in hope that the penny will one day finally drop.