Brexit: warnings for care sector in pandemic as freedom of movement ends

Wages should rise to make jobs more attractive to UK staff, say government advisers

Jamie Grierson www.theguardian.com 

The end of freedom of movement after Brexit will increase pressure on the social care sector in the midst of a pandemic unless ministers make jobs more attractive to UK workers by increasing salaries, government advisers have said.

The migration advisory committee (Mac) warned of the “stark consequences” of low wages in social care with most frontline roles ineligible for the post-Brexit skilled worker immigration route or on the official list for job shortages in the UK.

Senior care workers and nursing assistants are among healthcare roles that can be added to the shortage occupation list to relieve pressure when freedom of movements ends on 1 January, the committee said in a report.

But many of the roles in social care do not qualify and the advisers said “it therefore remains crucial that the government implements a more sustainable and generous funding model”.

“The risks of this not happening in a timely manner are stark,” the report reads. “If that does not occur, or occurs with substantial delay, we would expect the end of freedom of movement to increase the pressure on the social care sector, something that would be particularly difficult to understand at a time when so many care occupations are central to the Covid-19 pandemic frontline response.”

The vulnerable state of the UK care sector was brought into stark focus by thecoronavirus pandemic with 18,000 care home residents dying from confirmed or suspected Covid-19 in UK care facilities during the first wave of the outbreak.

Senior care workers constitute only about 10% of the UK social care workforce, said the chair of Mac, Prof Brian Bell, and that adding the role to the shortage occupation list would have only a small impact on the more than 100,000 vacancies in the UK.

The committee’s call for evidence heard that employers in the sector felt strongly that the worth of their staff was not recognised.

Bell said: “There needs to be a better funding model for social care that makes work in that sector better rewarded, and that’s the right way not only to attract resident workers and not to have to rely on migrants but also to deal with the turnover of the staff which is very high.

“But part of that is because workers don’t feel they’re valued appropriately. We think the way you value workers is you pay them better.”

Bell said he hoped the Department of Health and Social Care would soon come forward with proposals for improving the salaries for care workers.

He added that care workers should be paid “significantly higher” than £10 an hour. The national living wage for workers aged 25 or over is £8.72.

A median full-time salary for a care worker is £19,100, the Mac report said, which is below the minimum shortage occupation list salary threshold of £20,480.

The committee said there was potential for a rise in labour supply to the care sector as a result of job losses elsewhere due to the impact of Covid-19, but cautioned that “this cannot be predicted with any certainty”.

Mac said other occupations that should be added to the UK-wide list include butchers, bricklayers and welders, “where there is clear evidence of staff and skills shortages which could be filled by overseas workers”.

A government spokesperson said: “The Migration Advisory Committee has again been very clear that immigration is not the solution to addressing staffing levels in the social care sector.

“We’re helping the sector in a number of ways, including £1.5bn more funding for adults and children’s social care in 2020-21 and a national recruitment scheme.”

 

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