Disabled people who rely on care workers are likely to “feel the sharp end” of the government’s planned changes to the immigration system, campaigners have warned.
The new home secretary, James Cleverly, announced the government’s latest “crackdown” on Monday, with plans to reduce immigration numbers through a new five-point plan.
This will include new rules to stop overseas care workers bringing family dependants* with them to the UK, and ensuring that only care firms in England that are regulated by the Care Quality Commission will be able to sponsor visas.
About 120,000 dependants accompanied 100,000 care workers and senior care workers in the year to September 2023, he said.
The government will also increase the annual immigration health surcharge from £624 to £1,035.
Although Cleverly also announced an increase of a third in the minimum salary a skilled worker needs to earn to secure a visa – so it will be £38,700 from next spring – this will not apply to those arriving on health and social care visas.
Care workers are currently on the “shortage occupation list”, which means they must earn at least £20,960 a year.
Svetlana Kotova, director of campaigns and justice at Inclusion London, said: “Disabled people will feel the sharp end of the changes to migration rules.
“We already hear from many who stay without support because of staff shortages.
“Changes to migration rules show how the contribution of those who come to work in health and social care is not valued.
“We want those who provide support to disabled people to be paid a good wage, to be able to bring and live with their families.
“Instead of imposing more restrictions on migrant workers, the government should invest in social care so care workers are paid the wage that reflects the huge value of their work.”
John Evans, a pioneer of the independent living movement, said he was concerned that the changes could make it harder for disabled people who employ personal assistants (PAs) from other countries.
He said there was an “already dwindling PA market following Brexit, the pandemic and now the rise in the cost of living”.
He said: “It has never been more difficult finding new staff in my experience of 40 years of employing my own PAs.
“This puts an enormous burden on us as well as an increase in stress because of the worries about remaining living independently that could result in the loss of our freedom.
“Now we are in a position of limbo until this situation gains some clarity.”
Donald O’Neal, an adult social care user for more than 35 years, and author of The Lack of Care Act 2014, accused the government of “electioneering with disabled people’s wellbeing”.
He said the home secretary was acting with “little regard to the current context of a large worker shortage in the social care industry”.
He said: “At this point, with such a large shortage of care workers, the UK government needs to make it easier, and more attractive, for foreign workers to want to come and work in the social care industry, not harder.
“The Care Act 2014 has a significant focus on preventing people’s needs from becoming worse.
“If we see a large decrease in foreign workers coming to the UK to work in the social care industry because of these new immigration rule changes, then that will have the opposite effect.
“Many people will continue to go without the care they need, and their health needs will become worse.
“This could see some people needing more nursing intervention and even being admitted to hospital.
“With about 150,000 job vacancies in the social care industry, now is not the time to place restrictions on foreign workers wanting to come to the UK and work in the industry.”
Christina McAnea, general secretary of the public service union Unison, said the government’s announcement delivered “the final hammer blow to our crumbling social care system”, and would “sacrifice migrant care workers and risk a total collapse of the UK’s care system, just to appease extremist Tory backbenchers”.
She said that “any plans to curb the migrant care workforce will cause utter disaster” and that not allowing migrant care workers to bring dependants with them to the UK “will do exactly that”.
She predicted that staff vacancies would “soar” from the current number of 152,000.
Cleverly said in the Commons that he was “determined to crack down on those who try to jump the queue and exploit our immigration system” and that his five-point plan would “deliver the biggest ever reduction in net migration”.
He said he was taking “decisive action to reduce legal migration”.
When asked about the potential damage to the care sector, he said: “Although an individual with a family might be dissuaded because of the restrictions on family members, someone who does not have those family commitments will almost certainly be willing to put themselves forward, so we do not envisage a significant reduction in demand because of the changes.”
But Labour’s shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, told him: “Social care visas have gone up from 3,500 a year to more than 100,000 a year because the government have failed for years to heed warnings about recruitment and retention in social care.
“They halved the budget for social care workforce recruitment and support back in the spring, and they are still not listening and still refusing to adopt Labour’s plan for a proper workforce strategy for social care, including professional standards and a fair pay agreement.”
Meanwhile, legal firm Leigh Day has published a new guide (PDF) to help disabled people know their rights to support during lengthy stays in hospital or respite care.
The guide, commissioned by Inclusion London, followed the case of Cameron Mitchell, a disabled man who challenged cuts to his benefits which threatened to leave him without the care he needed while in hospital.
Thanks to Leigh Day, his claim was resolved.
*The government says a dependant can be “a spouse, partner, child, grandchild, parent, or someone who depends on you for care”
Picture: (From left to right) Donald O’Neal, John Evans and Svetlana Kotova. Picture of Svetlana Kotova by Jon Abrams
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