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Government immigration policy could be knock-out blow for a social care sector already on the ropes

Social care has been on the ropes for years following the failure of successive governments to even come up with a funding plan, let alone actually get a grip on our social care crisis. And after years of continuing government neglect for social care, this week’s announcement of a clampdown on migrant workers could be the final knock-out blow for a sector already on its knees. It beggars belief that, amid a much-publicised struggle to recruit care staff, this Government has now decided to make that task even harder with its five-point immigration plan.

This is a fragile sector which increasingly relies on skilled and dedicated workers from abroad. By stopping care workers bringing dependents into the country, many will understandably be put off coming. Yet, with a squeeze on pay and years of underinvestment in the social care sector, it seems highly unlikely workers already in the UK will be rushing to replace them. What happens then?

There were 150,000 vacancies in social care before this ill-thought-out, entirely politically motivated, policy was announced. Those vacancies will only climb higher now. With less provision available, ever more pressure will be piled on the seven million family carers who look after their loved ones at home. These unpaid carers are shouldering the burden of a social care system that has been left to crumble. Meanwhile the Government looks on, content to let these millions of people pick up the state’s work for free, knowing they have no alternative.

But research shows the social care crisis is causing unbearable strain for many unpaid carers and they may not be able to plug the gaps for much longer. A major Carers Trust survey released in September showed many carers are exhausted, with more than two-thirds unable to get a desperately-needed break and many facing burnout. At the same time the time they spend on their caring role is rocketing, forcing many out of paid employment. A staggering 41% said their caring hours had increased in the past year, with one-in-eight of those people caring for at least 50 hours a week or more.

Amid this pressure on so many UK citizens, the Government is choosing to ignore them. This makes no sense at all when our ageing society desperately needs a long-term funding strategy to keep social care available into old age. We should be doing all we can to invest in the sector and strengthen it, instead of putting up further barriers by starving it, not just of money, but potential staff too.

One of the reasons this immigration policy will be such a blow is the complete absence of reform elsewhere within social care. This government once vowed it would fix social care. But despite repeated opportunities to act, we are still waiting for that long-promised plan. Local councils fund most adult social care but their budgets have been slashed to the bone, with some even declaring bankruptcy and no help in sight. Meanwhile, unpaid carers are also repeatedly overlooked. They are left having to rely on Carer’s Allowance, the lowest benefit of its kind, and the support of local carer organisations who are stretched thin.

So, following its decision to further restrict staffing of social care, the question for Government has to be this: has it given up on solving this crisis? It certainly looks like that to people in the sector and all those millions of  unpaid carers, many forced to give up work and struggling to make ends meet as they tend to parents, children and friends. For them it’s hard not to conclude that our political leaders have thrown up their hands and said “we don’t care”. That’s hardly the best slogan for a General Election.


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