UK 'can't wait 15 years' for Brits to replace migrants in care jobs

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
An elderly woman is escorted by a carer as firms warn about migration reforms. (REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett)

Small business leaders are warning of a 15-year shortfall in social care staffing unless the government introduces a special visa for carers.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said firms “cannot wait” for British nationals to fill social care jobs, after the government confirmed plans to curb low-paid and low-skilled migration last week.

It warned Britain’s ageing population means demand is expected to keep growing. It said it would take an estimated 15 years before Britain had enough workers of its own to fill all posts in the sector.

A special category for qualified care workers who speak English would “recognise the unique role” they have, according to the FSB. “The social care sector should not be deemed as low-skilled,” it said in a new report.

Home secretary Priti Patel outlined plans last week for Britain’s immigration rules after the Brexit transition period ends from 2021.

Read more: UK to ‘end reliance on cheap labour’ with new immigration system

The government decided against creating a general visa for low-skilled workers after the free movement of EU workers comes to an end.

Many migrant workers will now need to meet new ‘points’ criteria for entry, and have a job offer in a role classed as ‘skilled’ and paid at least £25,600.

The reforms are designed to move Britain “away from a reliance on cheap labour from Europe,” and may prove popular with Leave voters.

Patel argued last week it was “about time” firms began recruiting and training more UK workers. She said eight million working-age Brits were currently classed as “economically inactive”.

But the announcement triggered a significant backlash from business groups and union leaders. The social care, hospitality, construction and food and drink industries are among the most likely to be affected by shortfalls of EU workers.

Read more: UK firms fear staff shortages and red tape from immigration plans

The public sector union Unison’s general secretary Christina McAnea warned at the time the reforms spelled “absolute disaster” for the care industry.

MacMillan Cancer Support has also backed calls for a special migration route for carers, warning of the risks to support provided to three million cancer patients.

Mike Cherry, national chairman of the FSB, said on Monday: “A points-based model can work, provided costs are kept down and systems are easy to navigate for small firms – the overwhelming majority of which have no experience of hiring a non-EU worker.”

But he noted the government’s announcement “includes no mention of the social care sector.” He also warned Britain risks business closures if the new system is not right and firms cannot get the staff they need.

A spokesperson for the Home Office told Yahoo Finance UK: “We’re ending free movement, taking back control of our borders and delivering on the people’s priorities by introducing a new UK points-based immigration system. 

“Employers will need to join our mission to level-up skills and economic growth across the whole UK so that we deliver a high-skill, high-wage and highly productive economy.”