The Immigration Team at Truth Legal has more insight than most solicitors into the staff shortages currently paralysing the UK’s social care sector.
On a near-daily basis we are contacted by a care provider seeking advice. Most of them are looking to apply for a sponsor licence, in the hope that they can alleviate their staff shortage by unlocking the ability to recruit from overseas.
Our care sector clients come in all shapes and sizes. They might provide domiciliary or residential care. Their service users might be older people, people with learning difficulties, people with disabilities, or people with complex mental health needs. They might operate as a charity, receive local authority funding, or be entirely privately funded. They might have a headcount of five, fifty, or several hundred.
And yet all of them are saying the same thing: recruitment is harder than it’s ever been.
If you’re a care provider thinking about sponsorship, take a look at our sector-specific webpage, where you can find details of what we do and how to contact us. Alternatively, you can call us on 01423 788538.
Recruitment in social care: what exactly is the problem?
Well, it’s problems, plural. And all of them are politically, socially, morally, loaded.
Problem 1: Covid
The pandemic brought into sharp focus the issues already affecting staffing in the care sector. The pay is low, the work is demanding, and the hours are long. Throw in the mental and physical stresses of a pandemic, and it’s little wonder our care workers are feeling undervalued.
Care workers are supporting the most vulnerable in our society, for many of whom Covid would be a death sentence due to their age or ill health. Many care workers have now spent overeighteen months in a constant state of worry, both for their own safety and the safety of their service users.
The job is life-or-death on a daily basis. I couldn’t cope with that kind of pressure, especially for a 12-hour shift on minimum wage, and I think it’s inevitable that many care workers have quit the profession.
Problem 2: Vaccinations
There’s plenty of talk in the media about mandatory Covid vaccinations, and it’s true that from 11 November, care workers will need to be double-jabbed in order to retain their jobs in frontline care.
The ethics of mandatory vaccinations in care is a can of worms I don’t intend to open here. But it seems obvious that mandatory vaccinations will have a negative effect on staffing in the care sector, which is already at breaking point.
Problem 3: Brexit
Full disclosure – I voted remain and I still think Brexit is a bad idea. But I understand that those in favour are frustrated by remainers blaming everything on Brexit, so I’ll try to be reasonably objective.
Before Brexit, it was far easier for EU nationals to work in the UK as care workers, and indeed in any job role. They could enter the UK and commence work by flashing an EU passport, with no need for either a visa or a sponsoring employer.
So far, so uncontroversial, I hope.
Brexit has had the effect of turning off the tap on this source of labour. Going forwards, EU nationals need to have a visa and a sponsoring employer to work in the UK, the same as non-EU nationals. This is a time-consuming, expensive, and complicated process for employers, and the government has so far done little to simplify the process.
Made with Care?
This week, the government launched a recruitment campaign called ‘Made with Care’. Adverts will be shown on ITV, Channel 4, Sky, and social media, with the aim of encouraging people into a career in care.
This is my favourite paragraph from the government’s press release:
“With almost half a million extra job opportunities in adult social care expected by 2035, and more than 105,000 vacancies needing to be filled, the ‘Made with Care’ campaign aims to encourage people to apply for exciting and rewarding roles across the country”.
What a cheerful way to describe an acute national labour shortage.
And although the government has promised £5.4 billion to support social care over the next three years, there are calls for more to be done ‘here and now’ to alleviate the intense and immediate pressures on staffing in the care sector.
Perhaps it’s because of my job, but one option which seems glaringly obvious to me is immigration policy. The Home Office persists in its refusal to recognise care work as a skilled occupation. This means that care providers cannot recruit from overseas any lower on the hierarchy than senior care workers.
This must be deeply insulting for care workers, who are one moment praised by the government for their efforts during the pandemic, but in the next moment are described by the same government as “unskilled”.
It’s also insulting to sponsoring employers, who face the irritating task of explaining to the Home Office why their new hire is a senior care worker capable of sponsorship, and not an unskilled ‘non-senior’ care worker not useful enough to the UK to be recruited from overseas. Helping employers navigate that distinction is a big part of what we do at Truth Legal.
In the post-Brexit world, I can understand to an extent that the government wants to expend all its energy on building the domestic workforce. But it seems dangerously naïve to expect some advertising and a catchy slogan to fix the damage done by Brexit and a global pandemic.
And ultimately, as an immigration lawyer I do not believe that anything about the government’s immigration policy has been ‘made with care’.
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