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MAC on the Attack

24 September 2018

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has concluded its year-long investigation into the current and likely future patterns of EEA migration and the impacts of that migration. The intention of the final MAC report is to provide an evidence base for the design of a new migration system. The timing of the MAC report in the final six months build-up to Brexit ensured the recommendations have hit the headlines. In a week fuelled with intense political and media focus on the relationship between the UK and the rest of the European Union, the importance of establishing an understanding of the impact of migration has never felt so pertinent.

The opportunity for the report to do some myth busting was not ignored, and amongst the key statements, the report notes:

  • Taking all the new evidence into account we found that migrants have no or little impact on the overall employment and unemployment outcomes of the UK born workforce’.
  • On innovation, the available evidence suggests that high-skilled immigrants make a positive contribution to the levels of innovation in the receiving country.
  • EEA migrants contribute much more to the health service and the provision of social care in financial resources and through work than they consume in services.
  • There is no evidence that migration has reduced the quality of healthcare.

The investigation had focussed in detail on the impact of EEA migration on public service. Social care will welcome the recommendation the cap on higher skilled migrants is lifted and the extension of the Tier 2 scheme to workers in medium skilled roles. This will allow the recruitment of nurses and other professionals to the sector within this category from both within the EEA and the wider world.

However, there was to be no softening of the MAC approach to the recruitment of what it deems ‘low skilled workforce’. Social care comes under particular focus in relation to its reliance on a migrant workforce, but the MAC is quite specific in its analysis of the position of the social care workforce.

Whilst acknowledging “We are seriously concerned about social care but this sector needs a policy wider than just migration policy to fix its many problems….. the impacts of migration often depend on other government policies and should not be seen in isolation from the wider context.”

Just in case government was in any doubt about which policy it was referring to, the report goes onto state: “Its (social cares) basic underlying problem is that poor terms and conditions paid to workers in this sector, in turn caused by the difficulty in finding a sustainable funding model.”

More evidence should we need it that the ongoing stasis around announcing proposals, (never mind solutions), for social care funding continue to damage not only the national, but international reputation of working within the sector.

I am often reminded of the powerful statement of Sharon Allen, CEO Skills for Care, when speaking earlier this year about the social care workforce at the Public Accounts Committee. There she stated “I think it is a source of national shame that we talk about this sector as a minimum wage workforce”. 

Clearly what the MAC is telling us, this shame stretches beyond our much scrutinised borders.

Whilst the MAC waves the potential for one targeted scheme for low skilled workers, in relation to seasonal agricultural workforce, it suggests if there is to be low skilled work route, it should not be sector specific, but should instead look at ‘youth mobility’. The challenge of recruiting any candidates brought through this route into our sector is not underestimated by the MAC, who state even if there was a special immigration scheme for social care, they do not think it is attractive enough, in its current state, to retain the migrants it requires. It raises concerns that migrants hired under such a scheme might take the first opportunity available to change sector.

Growing the social care workforce from within the UK is also tackled head on, with the MAC once again asserting the advent of a sustainable funding model paying competitive wages to UK residents would, it believes, address many of the recruitment and retention issues affecting the sector. It dismisses claims to treat the public sector different, claiming rather than seek special dispensation to deal with public workers where the value of the work is not sufficiently financially recognised, “it would be better to pay public sector workers salaries that reflect the value of the work”.

Well – so there you have it. The MAC shines a laser beam on some of the key challenges everyone in social care knows exists. Another powerful voice calling the government to account over the consequence of being caught napping as the country got older, and the care sector and its workforce got stretched to the extreme.

Whilst we remain part of the Europe, and can continue to attract a workforce to meet those emerging gaps, then it has been possible to stumble on. However, what the MAC report, and wider commentary (Polly Toynbee, Public Finance and Nursing Times) makes clear is, if there is to be no special recognition of the needs of social care, and every frontline care worker from either within the EEA or outside, becomes subject to this recommended migration system, then the social care workforce will be hardest hit.

We are told the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is in ‘listening’ mode around this key area of workforce. There are opportunities for front line staff to get their views heard, and we would strongly encourage you to share this opportunity with staff.

However, that listening needs to extend to the many voices that have gone before – the vast bodies of research that Jeremy Hunt, Caroline Dinenage and others have referenced in their speeches and presentations about the critical importance of sustainable funding, and a sustainable skilled and valued workforce.

On top of all that has gone before - we have the new report from Skills for Care on the state of the sector- reminding us of the increasing challenges.

On top of this, the Health and Social Care Select Committee is seeking views on the impact of a ‘no deal’ Brexit on social care. The full details of the inquiry can be found here and this important report from the MAC will provide more heavy weight evidence on the essential requirements of a well-supported and resourced workforce – now and in the future – deal or no deal. 

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