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Government’s immigration plan risks a “total collapse” of UK’s care system, says union boss

The general secretary of Unison is warning that government plans to cut net migration will cause “utter disaster” in the care sector.

The new plans, announced by the Home Secretary James Cleverly, will tighten the Health and Care visa, preventing care workers from bringing family dependants to the UK and raising the minimum income for family visas from £18,600 to £38,700.

The law which allows the most-needed professions to be hired at 20% below the going rate will also be scrapped, and foreign workers will now have to pay nearly double to use the NHS (£1,035 annually up from £624).

Health and Care visas introduced during pandemic to plug workforce gaps

The Health and Care visa was introduced in 2020 to plug workforce gaps during the Covid pandemic. In total, 101,000 Health and Care visas were issued to care workers and senior care workers in 2023, with an estimated 120,000 visas granted to associated dependants.

However, the government estimates that the majority of these dependents “don’t work, but still make use of public services.”

A government spokesperson said the new measures will address concerns about “high levels of non-compliance, worker exploitation and abuse within the adult social care sector”, while continuing to protect the NHS and social care systems.”

100,000 fewer workers predicted to come through health and social care routes

However, union leaders and care bosses have warned that the plans will only exacerbate high levels of vacancies across social care, which currently holds more than 152,000 vacancies.

Modelling from the Home Office predicts that, with the introduction of these new laws, 100,000 fewer workers will come through health and social care routes, and tens of thousands fewer will come as sponsored family members.

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said the “cruel plans spell total disaster for the NHS and social care” and risks a “total collapse of the UK’s care system.”

Ms McAnea says plans to prevent overseas care workers from bringing their dependants to the UK, will cause potential recruits to be put off from coming to the UK and force current workers to leave when their visas come up for renewal.

“Migrant workers were encouraged to come here because both sectors are critically short of staff. Hospitals and care homes simply couldn’t function without them,” she said.

Proposals “risk destabilising the already struggling social care sector”

Nuffield Trust Fellow Camille Oung said while the government is right to keep care workers exempt from the increased salary requirement, but the plans take a “huge risk” with a social care system already struggling with a huge number of vacancies.

“While the plans do not intend to reduce the number of staff coming from abroad, they will deter those with dependents – a troubling move for a largely female workforce.

“What’s more, this year, the number of domestic staff who started working in the care sector dropped, yet there is no clear plan or investment into improving conditions for the workforce.

“Without an accompanying long-term plan for the social care workforce, these proposals risk destabilising the already struggling social care sector, with those that lose out ultimately being the people in need of care and support.”

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