Social workers will be added to the list of shortage occupations

The government needs to relax immigration rules on social worker jobs as the social care sector finds it increasingly difficult to attract and retain staff.

Social workers will be added to the shortage occupations list, the Department of Health and Social Affairs (DHSC) said.

The decision follows a recommendation by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) that jobs should be made eligible for the health and care visa and placed on the list, which is designed to help migrants obtain work visas. to fill jobs where there are shortages.

This was called for “immediately” to alleviate the “serious and growing difficulties” the sector faces in recruiting and retaining, the MAC said in mid-December.

The recommendation was triggered by the preliminary findings of an independent MAC review of the effect of the end of free movement after Brexit on the social care sector and its workers.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the measure would help “ensure short-term sustainability” as he also urged healthcare workers to get vaccinated.

He said: “I also urge all caregivers who have not yet done so to come forward now to protect themselves and those in their care.”

Social workers and caregivers from abroad will be able to move with dependents, including partners and children, and the visa offers a route to settle in the UK, the DHSC said.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “The healthcare industry is facing unprecedented challenges brought on by the pandemic and the changes we have made to the healthcare and healthcare visa will strengthen the workforce and help to alleviate some of the pressures currently being faced. “

The announcement comes after activists last year accused the government of excluding social workers from its new immigration system and ignoring the role they played during the coronavirus pandemic.

The temporary measures are expected to take effect early next year and will be in place for at least 12 months.

Healthcare providers experience high vacancy and turnover rates, and pressure on staff is exacerbated by the recent spread of Omicron.

Sam Monaghan, Managing Director of MHA, the UK’s largest charitable care provider, said: “Essential care and support for older people is facing a staffing crisis like we have never seen before.

“Like other nonprofit care providers, MHA has to close the doors of our care homes and we currently have about 19% of our homes unable to accept new residents.

“As a result, older people stay in hospital longer than necessary or do not have access to the care they want.

“The changes to the immigration rules announced today are a very welcome step forward in addressing the current healthcare workforce crisis.

“However, it will be a few months before older people feel the benefits of these much-needed changes.

“For now, we need the government to urgently deal with the compensation of social workers, and we need local authorities to make contingency plans in case staff pressures arise. would get worse before they get better. “

Nadra Ahmed, president of the National Care Association, said the government’s decision was “a significant recognition of the significant workforce challenges facing colleagues and welfare departments.”

And Vic Rayner, Executive Director of the National Care Forum, said: “This is welcome news at an incredibly difficult time for social care.

“The workforce is under more pressure than ever, and this change means hard-pressed employers struggling to recruit into the UK job market will have a silver lining for the New Year.

“It will be imperative that all organizations, large and small, in need of these valuable additional workers, be able to use the immigration system quickly.

“Right now it’s complex and organizations that currently use it for broader roles recognize the financial and bureaucratic burdens inherent in the system. “

Liberal Democrat health and social services spokeswoman Daisy Cooper said easing immigration rules was “too little, too late for anyone who has seen their loved ones visit in a care home canceled this Christmas “.

“When Boris Johnson delivered Brexit, he pulled the rug out from under the care workforce,” she said.

“Now, the paltry offer of a one-year visa is unlikely to attract the number of social workers we desperately need.”

Wes Streeting, Labor’s shadow health and social services secretary, said: “Making this announcement on Christmas Eve is an admission of failure by the Conservative government that they are not paying caregivers enough to recruit or retain staff. that we need, and have failed to tackle this building problem for years.

“Labor will ensure that caregivers get the pay and conditions they deserve, tackle high vacancy rates and transform training to improve the quality of care. “

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