The shortage of workers in the care sector are well-documented with a vacancy rate of over eight percent or over 120,000 positions at any one time. We also know that many roles are filled by non-UK nationals – around eight percent are EU nationals and a further nine percent are non-British. In normal times the sector has just about coped – but in this COVID-19 period where the focus and pressure is ever more on the sector, many are worried about a shortage of staff. And when the IPPR estimate that one in five staff could leave the sector after the pandemic, the pressures are only going to worsen.
This week the government’s Immigration Bill has resumed its passage through Parliament. And as some commentators are observing, whilst there is much focus on supporting nursing and medical professionals to come to the UK, the route for those wishing to work in the care sector is closed. Come 2021, the opportunity for non-UK nationals to enter the UK to work in the care sector in the majority of roles will simply not exist.
The reason for this is that most care roles are not deemed highly skilled – and an individual is very unlikely to be able to achieve the required 70 points under the new immigration system to live and work in the UK.
It is not to say that from 1 January there will suddenly be an exodus of talent – far from it as many non-UK nationals are settled here with their families. But over time as people retire, leave the sector or move away then there will be more pressures.
What is the way forward? For a start, we need to think about how we make the sector attractive to the next generation of care worker. Yes, it is hard work but it is also so very fulfilling and it does require skills. Who are the people who might want to start a career in the sector – or have a career change? How do we train and prepare those people and even help them transition to the sector? Would qualifications and certification help? Should non-UK nationals be able to enter the UK for a period of time to help fill the anticipated gaps?
Trying to predict the future is hard. What’s becoming clearer is that carers will increasingly be in demand over the coming years – from the pressures of COVID-19 to our ageing population with often multiple and complex needs.
We need a long-term strategy to address the talent gap – and address the wider issues such as funding. And that needs employers, governments, unions, care workers and the education system to work together to find sustainable solutions.
Operations Director, BS Social Care