Adult Social Care in 2022: immigration review and tackling recruitment shortages

The adult social care sector in England is facing significant challenges in recruiting and retaining staff, matters which could be affected by post-EU exit policies that seek to reduce net migration. The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) recently reviewed these important issues and last month published a comprehensive report to government which runs to over 150 pages.

The key findings from the MAC – an independent, non-departmental public body that advises the government on migration issues – can be summarised as follows. The full report can be viewed here.

Conclusions

  • The adult social care sector in England faces a gap of 200,000 care workers by the end of this Parliament because of restrictions on immigration and a failure to attract UK workers to roles in the sector. Longer term, it is estimated there could be a shortfall of 1 million workers in the next 20 years.
  • Immigration policy cannot solve the crisis in the social care workforce, although it could mitigate some of the problems created by the shortage of care workers. The ending of freedom of movement of people (as a consequence of the UK’s exit from the EU) closed off a source of workers at a critical time for recruitment and retention.

Recommendations

  • Adopt a common framework for collecting data about the care workforce as a whole, because there is a “serious evidence gap about the labour market for directly-employed care workers, despite the role of public funds in employment many of them.”
  • Invest in training and career development to make social care more attractive for UK born workers.
  • Introduce a fully funded-minimum rate of pay for care workers that is greater than the National Living Wage. A minimum starting point should be £10.50 per hour “to be implemented immediately”. [The chair of the MAC, Professor Brian Bell, said that although this has already been implemented in Scotland it “however, will not be enough to address the issues and we urge the Government to go significantly further as quickly as possible.”]
  • Pay social care workers for hours at work even if their time is spent travelling or sleeping. The MAC considers that as long as these hours are not being adequately compensated, workers are being underpaid for their time spent at work and it recommends that where care is being provided through public funds, those funds should increase to reflect the additional costs involved.
  • Introduce more highly skilled roles to the Shortage Occupation List making it easier for employers to recruit from overseas.
  • Allow low skilled migrant workers enter the social workforce by revisiting the currently-suspended Tier 3 visa route (Tier 3 was designed for low-skilled workers filling specific temporary labour shortages via a temporary work visa).
  • Consider setting up umbrella body – possibly on a ‘pilot’ basis – to sponsor care workers from overseas. People who can demonstrate that their level of need requires live-in care would be able to recruit directly recruit from the umbrella body (this approach is modelled on SAWS, the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme).

Commenting on the publication of the report, Dr Rhidian Hughes, Chief Executive of the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VODG), said:

“The Migration Advisory Committee’s report offers a further wake-up call for Government. The Voluntary Organisations Disability Group backs the Committee’s recommendation to fully fund a rate of social care pay above the National Living Wage. A fully funded £10.50 per hour social care rate would be a good start, but we know the true value of care work is much more. We need to be ambitious in rewarding talent for much-needed social care.”

What might it mean for civil claims?

The unprecedented recruitment challenges faced by the adult social care sector and highlighted in the MAC’s report might have some influence on civil courts assessing personal injuries claims which feature care needs. The recommendations in the report could play into arguments that privately funded care regimes are more appropriate than public sector provision.

The stand-out recommendation that carers be paid for travelling to work and for ‘sleeping in time’ could, if implemented, have a significant effect. It could risk re-opening the issues determined by the Supreme Court in Mencap v Tomlinson-Blake [UKSC 2018/0160] which held (a) that working time for the purposes of the National Minimum Wage did not include ‘sleep in time’ and (b) that carers should be paid only for time that they are awake and working.

A further concern is that if the costs of statutory funded care regimes increase as a result of some or all of the MAC’s recommendations being taken forward, that could have a ‘knock on’ effect on the cost of private care regimes. Should insurers detect significant increases in these heads of claim it will become ever more important to scrutinise the detail of proposed care regimes and, where necessary, to take a robust line on unreasonable costings.

The key question: will these recommendations be implemented?

The report was published towards the end of April, meaning there has been neither sufficient time for a formal response from government nor for any of the proposals to find their way into the new legislative programme outlined in the Queen’s Speech earlier this week.

The MAC’s recommendations, if implemented, face in to two sensitive topics for the current government: increasing public spending and opening up immigration. Those issues could very easily combine as a strong political headwind against implementation.

That said, the recommendations may well be seized on by other stakeholders in the sector as an additional element in ongoing campaigns about greater funding of public sector care. In the short term at least, the proposals from the Committee are probably not going anywhere. The first clues to the government’s reaction to them will have to await publication of the immigration Minister’s reply to the report and to Professor Bell’s covering letter of 27 April.

Written by Steve Lynch, Partner and Alistair Kinley, Director of Policy & Government Affairs issued on behalf of the Care, Statutory Funding and Rehabilitation SMG

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