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Government launches task force to boost international recruitment of overseas care staff to fill ...

Updated: May 15, 2023

The challenges facing social care providers in trying to recruit new staff is well documented. The situation has become so desperate that providers have returned contracts back to local authorities because they did not have the staff to meet them.

To address this critical situation The government wants to boost international recruitment to fill the increasing gaps in the social care workforce.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has launched a taskforce to bring in more staff from overseas into both social care and health in time for what it said would be a “challenging winter”.

A DHSC spokesperson said:” We are committed to building and supporting our hard-working NHS and social care workforces and have launched a taskforce to drive up the recruitment of international staff into critical roles across the system.

“The taskforce will work with experts across government and the NHS and social care sectors to agree actions that will boost staff numbers ahead of the challenging winter period. Further details will be set out in due course.”

The situation has become so desperate that providers of social care have returned contracts back to local authorities because they did not have the staff to meet them. This is due to the number of vacancies in adult social care in 2021-22 which rose by 52%.

Factors influencing staff vacancies

The factors influencing the drift away from social care include workforce attrition caused by the immense challenges of working through the pandemic, social care being overtaken, in terms of pay, by other low-paid sectors, such as retail, and the widening gap in remuneration between equivalent roles in social care and the NHS, such as nursing.

Post-Brexit drop in overseas staff

However, some have also cited the impact of ending free movement from European countries following Brexit, in January 2021, in reducing the supply of overseas staff.

From January to April 2021, just 1.8% of new starters in adult social care were from overseas, compared with 5.2% in the same period in 2019, according to Skills for Care figures.

The government’s post-Brexit immigration system initially all but locked out people from moving to the UK to work as care workers through a skilled worker visa.

However, it subsequently relaxed this position by adding, first, senior care workers, and then other care workers, to its shortage occupation list.

This has enabled employers to recruit staff using the so-called health and social care visa, so long as they earn at least £10.10 an hour.

Recruitment barriers

However, around half of care workers and a third of senior care workers earn less than this, said a report earlier this year by the Migration Advisory Committee, which advises the government on immigration.

Also, care workers were only added to the shortage list for 12 months, pending a government review, while employers must pay for a sponsorship licence, and then face ongoing charges, to bring staff in on a health and social care visa.

In its report, MAC called for ongoing charges to be dropped and for the government to make permanent employers’ ability to recruit care workers through the health and social care visa.

In response to news of the taskforce, the Independent Care Group, which represents providers in Yorkshire, said a key priority was tackling barriers to overseas recruitment created by Home Office “bureaucracy”.

Bureaucracy strangling the process’

Chair Mike Padgham said: “We agree with the health secretary that we need more overseas staff to ease the shortage, but the truth is Home Office bureaucracy is strangling the process.

“Care providers are waiting months to get their application for a licence to recruit overseas workers approved and, in the meantime, care is suffering.


Social care finds itself in a critical situation in attempting to recruit the staff it desperately needs.

The launch of the Department of Health and Social Care Taskforce to boost the recruitment of overseas workers should be welcomed but is it too little and too late. The government have dithered on the recruitment of overseas workers by adhering to post Brexit dogma. The delays in Home Office bureaucracy are also causing more frustration for providers. The government needs to get a grip if social care is going to meet the demands of a challenging winter.

Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute Managing Director Bettal Quality Consultancy

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