Nik Hartley writes about why we have pushed for care workers to be eligible for the fast-track Health and Care Visa and added to the Shortage Occupation List.
You couldn’t get fuel in the autumn; you couldn’t have your mum and dad visit for Christmas; you can’t get a lateral flow to go back to work; your gas bill is up for renewal in the spring which is looking like it might double in price; meanwhile your son has done three shifts in a row in A&E, while you listen to claims the hospitals are not overwhelmed.
But in your case, none of that really matters as you won’t be getting out of your bedroom this morning, because the bed in the room next door is empty.
It is empty because two of your live-in carers on the rota have left the country they have been working in for a decade, to go back to Europe; the care agency cannot find any carers who can move to your second bedroom with the skills to support you in your bowel management routine, your catheter changes, and the vital regular adjustments in the night to avoid pressure sores that if missed are always likely to become ulcerated infections. You may have voted for Brexit, but not for a care worker crisis.
And that is where we are – a massive shortage in skilled carers that has been devastating for spinal cord injured people. SIA heard these stories too many times during 2021. Meanwhile the narrative in the media, and therefore with government, has been about carers who could easily be replaced by young British people. A dominant and completely inaccurate discourse on unskilled work, with oft repeated images of carers making tea for elderly people in their homes.
Indeed, the Home Office were quoted as saying:
Employers should focus on domestic job seekers first, providing training needed to take up roles in social care and the rewarding packages these workers deserve, rather than turning to immigration as an alternative
But for our members this was, and is, a life-critical crisis happening right now. And as for pay, for many people this is care work not paid for by their money, but by a national healthcare budget that sets the price. Your taxes, your NHS budget.
Therefore we – our campaigns team and our chair and senior vice chair – sat down with the Migratory Advisory Committee (MAC) in May and September 2021, to lobby for a change in the status of care workers to be eligible for the fast-track Health and Care Visa and added to the Shortage Occupation List.
MAC listened carefully to the evidence, and in their annual report to Parliament and the Home Office made the following interim recommendation
Unusually we are taking the opportunity to make a formal recommendation to the Government. Given the severe and increasing difficulties the sector is facing in terms of both recruitment and retention, we are recommending that care worker jobs immediately be made eligible for the Health and Care Visa and placed on the Shortage Occupation List
And as you now know, the government has responded, saying it will indeed implement this recommendation for at least the next 12 months.
But that promise now needs to become policy; yesterday. And we need all of us to campaign hard to make it so.
It is hard to rise above the rightful noise of the pandemic, but we must continue to monitor the government very closely to ensure that the recommendation is actually implemented, and that when it is, spinal cord injured people are able to access appropriate care worker support.
It’s also crucial that the MAC has understood there is still more to do because they have recognised that their recommendation
…. will not be relevant for other groups of workers in social care. A particular concern are live-in carers who are employed by individuals privately or by individuals in receipt of direct payments
And so we’ll continue to work with MAC as they consider a bespoke immigration solution to this problem to recommend to the government. And when they do make their recommendation, we’ll push hard to make sure the government will again implement any such recommendations immediately.
Who cares? Tens of thousands of people who cannot start their day without these long-overdue changes.
Nik Hartley – CEO