Social care would be dealt a devastating blow if plans to end freedom of movement following Brexit go ahead, campaigners warned today.
Responding to the news that the Government plans to end visas for so-called low-skilled workers from overseas, the Independent Care Group said care of older and vulnerable adults would suffer.
There are already around 120,000 unfilled vacancies in social care. Previous estimates have warned that there would be 115,000 fewer care workers from overseas if freedom of movement ended, by 2026.
By contrast, some estimates say an increasingly ageing population will need an extra 700,000 care workers by 2030.
The Group’s Chair, Mike Padgham warned: “This would be a devastating blow for social care and would lead to hundreds of thousands more people not getting the care they need.
“The truth is that we already have 1.5m people living without the care they need – a number that is growing every day. We need more care staff now and we are going to need many thousands more to care for an ageing population in the future.
“If the Government prevents the sector from recruiting from overseas, then where are these extra staff going to come from?”
Mr Padgham said the Government had failed to address chronic under-funding of social care which meant that the sector was in crisis.
“Now, if they put this upon us too, the situation is going to be unbearable,” he added.
“In reality, social care work is highly skilled, but because of a lack of funding in the sector, is not highly paid and so care workers will not meet the visa criteria, starving providers of the overseas staff they need to fill their shifts.
“This will heap further pressure on an already crumbling social care sector which will in turn pile more pressure on NHS healthcare, which will have to pick up the pieces when less and less social care is available.
“It defies belief and increases the urgency for the Government to tackle social care, starting with measures to support care in next month’s budget.”
The Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VODG) which represents disability support charities also expressed concerns about government’s points based immigration proposals. VODG believes these proposals will create instability in the social care labour market.
If implemented, the proposals mean that no one can enter the country to take a carer role at a time when the sector is chronically short of staff. It is vital that the sector is sufficiently resourced to ensure social care providers are able to recruit and retain its workforce. VODG believes that government must act to protect a vital public service.
VODG chief executive Dr Rhidian Hughes said:
“These hugely concerning proposals by government will only exacerbate workforce shortages in social care. Employers are already struggling to recruit and retain staff due to chronic underfunding in the sector. Central government now needs to significantly strengthen investment in the sector. Without that investment we should be in no doubt that in some geographical areas where organisations are struggling to secure staff, these proposals will signal the end of essential social care services.”
For many providers, retaining adequate staffing levels is a significant challenge for a number of reasons. The increasing complexity of the care needs of people who use services is one such reason – social care work is becoming more skilled and specialised. Government’s proposals fail to recognised this.