Restrictions on migrant workers in the social care industry could have harmful consequences, according to a government advisor.

The leading advisor on immigration for the government has criticized proposals to ban foreign care workers from bringing their families to the UK. They cautioned that implementing such a policy could have detrimental effects on the social care industry.

The chairman of the Migration Advisory Committee, Prof Brian Bell, stated that the policies advocated by immigration minister Robert Jenrick, including a limit on the number of overseas care workers, could potentially make the existing staffing shortage worse. He cautioned that this could ultimately result in a situation where many individuals do not receive proper care.

The speaker stated that it is difficult to persuade British individuals to work in social care due to low wages. They suggested that tightening immigration policies could potentially decrease the number of migrants entering the country and therefore lower net migration, which may be favorable for the government.

“However, the question must be posed: if the goal of migration is achieved, would it not significantly harm the social care industry?”

He stated that the government must first tackle workforce concerns, such as providing more funding and better pay, before implementing policies that would decrease the number of people working in care. This would help attract and retain more UK staff.

According to him, the key solution to this problem is to improve the wages of care workers. However, he criticized the government for not taking any action towards this issue. He also warned against manipulating the numbers in the social care sector until this crucial aspect of addressing workforce problems is addressed.

‘Pay care workers better’: Prof Brian Bell, chair of the government's Migration Advisory Committee.

New data revealed that net migration to the UK hit a historic high of 745,000 in 2022. Between September 2022 and September 2023, 143,990 individuals entered the country through the health and care worker visa program, with care workers making up 58% of that number. Additionally, they were accompanied by 173,896 dependants.

Jenrick has reportedly created a plan consisting of five points to decrease the number of workers, which includes prohibiting workers from bringing dependents or limiting them to one family member. It is currently uncertain if any limitations on dependents would only affect care workers or if they would also affect other healthcare professionals.

Some of his other suggestions involve raising the minimum salary requirement for skilled employees and implementing a limit on the total number of care workers. These ideas are currently being evaluated by Downing Street, who has yet to provide a response.

Restrictions on the number of dependants have faced backlash from organizations advocating for migrant rights, who have denounced them as “cruel” and likely to tear families apart. Leaders in the care industry have also expressed concerns, with some warning that the proposals put forth by Jenrick could result in overwhelming staffing and financial strain for care providers, potentially leading to closures. Mike Padgham, CEO of St Cecilia’s care home chain, stated that raising minimum salary requirements without adequate funding would be a damaging blow to an already struggling sector.

In the recent report accompanying the autumn statement by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) emphasized the increasing financial strains that local governments are experiencing in providing social services.

The report revealed that due to reduced funding from the central government, local authorities have decreased their spending from 7.4% to 5% of GDP since 2011. It is projected to further decrease to 4.6% by 2028. This is expected to place additional strain on councils, who are responsible for overseeing adult and child social care in their jurisdiction.

Hunt stated during the autumn statement that the economy had made a positive turn. However, economists noted that his tax cuts were only feasible due to the reduction of departmental budgets, which would have a significant impact on public services, especially in areas with increasing demand, like social care.

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The government’s tax cuts of £20bn were expected to improve the popularity of the Conservative party, but the most recent Opinium poll for the Observer reveals no increase in support. Labour has widened their lead by 3 points to 16 points since last week. Keir Starmer’s party now holds 42% of the vote (a 2 point increase from last week), while the Tories have dropped 1 point to 26%.

Professor Bell, who was designated to lead the MAC by former Minister of the Interior Priti Patel in 2020, and reappointed in July by another former Minister of the Interior, Suella Braverman, stated that his committee had not been consulted for guidance on Jenrick’s suggestions to decrease the number of healthcare workers. However, he informed the Observer that the plans shared with the press suggested a lack of coordination within the government.

Although the changes may benefit the Tory party in reducing net migration, there could be serious consequences if reforms are not implemented to attract UK citizens to work in the social care field. Currently, there are approximately 150,000 job openings in this sector. Bell expressed doubt, questioning if British workers will be forced to fill these positions. He believes this idea is unrealistic and ultimately, it will result in many individuals not receiving the necessary care.

Any changes affecting social care would also hit the NHS, which works closely with the sector. Sir Julian Hartley, of NHS Providers, said the wider health system was too “reliant on highly valued staff from overseas to keep it going” and that this wasn’t sustainable. But he said the government must also ensure that “international professionals consider the UK a viable place to work and live”, as well as “turbo-boosting” the numbers of domestically trained health and social care staff, including increasing funding and improving pay.

Bell has expressed concerns about the exploitation of care workers who enter the country on a visa. He has observed evidence that indicates this issue is significant. It is widely reported that these workers are being charged exorbitant recruitment fees, receiving insufficient pay, being overworked, having unauthorized deductions taken from their wages, and being bound by lengthy contracts. Unseen UK has documented a 606% increase in exploitation cases within the care industry between 2021 and 2022.

Bell expressed disbelief at the mistreatment of individuals in social care and questioned why there is a lack of regulation for the companies involved. He described the situation as frightening.