Pay for care workers ‘must rise significantly’ to avoid reliance on immigration

Immigration is “not the solution” to problems in the social care workforce, according to a Government adviser.

Professor Brian Bell reiterated calls for care worker pay to “rise significantly above the minimum wage to attract resident workers who can often earn more in less demanding jobs”, adding: “It is a deliberate policy decision regarding social care funding not to do so.”

Net migration will “often change as a result of issues outside of those that the Home Office control”, the chairman of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) said, warning: “If pay does not rise substantially for care workers, I have no idea where the workers to fill the vacancies are going to come from, if not from abroad.

“If university funding is not put on a more sustainable basis, I have no idea how universities will remain solvent without a heavy reliance on international students.

“It would surely be a good idea to address the underlying causes, rather than just the symptoms.”

Asked by reporters on Wednesday about the potential effects of changes which would see those on care visas no longer able to bring dependants when they come to work in the UK, Prof Bell said while there will likely be “some reduction” in the numbers, “it may not be as big as people might think”.

Leading voices in the care sector have raised concerns around what the new measures could mean for the workforce, amid staff shortages and a general reliance on workers from abroad.

Prof Bell said: “It’s possible that there’s such a supply of workers who are willing to come to the UK to work in care, because it’s still an attractive opportunity to come to work and to eventually get settlement in the UK, that actually there might be a large enough group of people who want to come and will come by themselves.”

The committee’s latest report repeated its previous assertions that the underlying cause of workforce difficulties “is the underfunding of the social care sector leading to low pay and difficult working conditions”, which it said “has contributed to an increased reliance on the immigration system and the associated exploitation of migrants”.

The committee said there had been several cases of potential modern slavery reported, particularly relating to dependants of migrants on the health and care worker visa.

There were 25 cases of so-called bonded labour between May and July this year “where a caseworker found information within an employment contract or other information that indicated that prohibited costs would be deducted from the migrant’s salary”.

Examples included sponsors charging people for the Immigration Skills Charge (ISC) which can range from hundreds of pounds to £1,000 – despite this being in contravention of the sponsorship guidance – and someone paying £8,000 directly to a sponsor for rent upfront, with another paying £21,000 to their sponsor for the visa.

The committee stated that the “only long-term sustainable solution to the workforce problems in the sector is to pay all care workers in the UK properly which would require a significant increase in public funds, and we remain deeply disappointed that the UK Government continue to exhibit no ambition in this area”.

Prof Bell repeated the committee’s previous recommendation to increase care worker wages by a pound an hour above the national living wage as “a sensible starting point”.

Labour has pledged to introduce a fair pay agreement for social care, set up a workforce plan for the sector and tackle exploitation and visa abuse “by restricting bad employers’ use of the immigration system”, if it comes into power at the next election.

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