Charities, umbrella bodies, trade unions and lawyers have warned that the voluntary sector, especially social care, is facing a staffing crisis after the government dramatically tightened the UK’s immigration rules.
The Home Office today announced a new Australia-style points system for controlling immigration, which will be implemented at the beginning of 2021, once the UK’s transition arrangements with the European Union have ended.
But charities and sectors reliant on low-paid staff, particularly the social care sector, have warned that the proposals will exacerbate existing staff shortages amid a continuing funding crisis.
The new immigration system will require prospective migrants to meet a 70-point threshold, including non-negotiable requirements to have a job offer from an approved sponsor, a job at an appropriate skill level and to speak English to a required level. Those required characteristics would get applicants 50 of the 70 points required.
Migrants will then be able to accrue further points for their qualifications and for having jobs above the salary threshold and in designated shortage occupations.
The salary threshold under the new system will be lowered from £30,000 to £25,600 a year, the government said, with opportunities to “trade” skills and qualifications for a lower salary under the points-based system.
But charity sector representatives have expressed concerns about the changes. Richard Sagar, policy manager at the Charity Finance Group, said: “CFG-commissioned research has found that the majority of migrant workers in the charity sector are employed in either social or residential care. With skills shortages and a squeeze on income already reported in social and residential care, this could exacerbate the difficulty our members are already finding in filling roles.
“Unless government makes significant investment in local government at the upcoming spending review, this could be catastrophic for charitable social care providers in the UK.”
The Voluntary Organisations Disability Group said that the new system was “hugely concerning” and was essentially closing the immigration system to care workers at a time where the social care sector was “chronically short of staff”.
Dr Rhidian Hughes, chief executive of the VODG, said: “Employers are already struggling to recruit and retain staff because of 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.”
Christina McAnea, assistant general secretary of the trade union Unison, warned that the proposals spelled “absolute disaster” for social care providers.
“Companies and councils can’t recruit enough staff from the UK, so they have to rely on care workers from elsewhere,” she said. “But even with these migrant employees, there’s still way too few care workers to meet demand.
“Care work is highly skilled, but low paid, so it falls foul of the government’s arbitrary immigration threshold.
“Suddenly ending this desperately needed supply of labour will cause huge problems across the country. The government simply has to think again.”
Chetal Patel, partner at the law firm Bates Wells, said the government’s overhaul of the immigration system “will be more severe”.
Patel said: “Take the low-skilled workers: we know that the government will not introduce a visa for these roles, so businesses and individuals will need to adapt and adjus’ to the new immigration system.
“Given that some sectors are going to be severely disrupted by this, will some organisations move elsewhere or fold all together?”
Patel said that employers would need to start applying now to be sponsors if they were not already registered, with charities needing to have the correct systems in place within the next few months to qualify for the scheme.
“These changes present far-reaching challenges for charities that depend upon volunteers and low-skilled labour to stay afloat,” she said.
“Today’s announcement underlines that charity leadership teams need to prepare for a step change in their immigration arrangements over the next year.”