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Why has it taken so long to include care workers on the shortage occupation list?

Happy New Year to all my readers and I do hope 2022 brings with it a better year for those who work in social care.

Few of you will need reminding that 2021 saw many staff leave social care because of compulsory vaccination at a time when the sector was already experiencing chronic staff shortages due to Brexit. Providers have warned the Government over many months about the situation facing them and to alleviate the situation asked them to give care workers access to fast track visas.

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC)

The MAC on December 18th 2021, recommended that the ban on allowing asylum seekers to work should be lifted and care workers should immediately be given access to fast-track visas.

‘Pull factors’

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) said the government should release evidence backing ministers’ assertions that allowing claimants to work would be a “pull factor” for others to come to the UK.

In its annual report to the home secretary, Priti Patel, the committee said there was clear evidence of the harm being caused by the ban on employment and that a change of policy was needed after the recent drownings in the Channel.

Under current rules, asylum seekers are barred from working unless their claims have been outstanding for 12 months through no fault of their own. After this time, they must seek permission from the Home Office and can only apply for specified jobs on the official shortage occupation list.

The immigration minister Tom Pursglove said that the ban must remain in place to “reduce pull factors to the UK and ensure our policies do not encourage people to undercut the resident labour force”.

However, Prof Brian Bell, the MAC chair, said he had not seen evidence to back up the “pull factor” assessment and it was incumbent on ministers to make this public. “It’s not enough to say: ‘There’s a pull factor’. You’ve got to have evidence to support that. You can’t come to conclusions if you’re not willing to tell us what the evidence is on one side of the equation,” he said.

Migration Advisory Committee recommendation

In a statement, the committee said: “Given the severe and increasing difficulties faced by the care sector, the report brings forward preliminary findings on adult social care. The MAC recommends the government make care workers immediately eligible for the health and care worker visa and place the occupation on the shortage occupation list.”

The list includes jobs where employers face a shortage of suitable labour and where it is sensible to fill those vacancies with migrant workers. Ultimately it is for the government to decide whether the recommendation is accepted.

Inclusion on the SOL will stipulate an annual salary minimum of £20,480 for carers to qualify for the Health and Care Visa. The temporary measures are expected to come into effect early next year and will be in place for a minimum of 12 months, providing a much-needed staffing boost while the sector deals with the additional pressures of the pandemic, at which point they will be reviewed.

Reasons for delay in including care workers on Shortage Occupation List

The prime reason for the delay in including care workers on the SOL is the Governments concern about pull factors to the UK. The Government however can provide no evidence to support this case.

Summary

The Government have ignored the warnings of the social care sector about shortages of staff. They turned a blind eye about the consequences of Brexit and the imposition of compulsory vaccinations. They failed to heed the call for care workers to be included on the shortage occupation list, and it has been left to the Migration Advisory Committee to put the case for adult social care.

The Governments concern about encouraging more migrants to the UK seems along to have been the reason for the delay. Social care should thank the MAC for bringing realism to the staffing situation facing social care.

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

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