Health secretary defends controversial changes to care visas

The health and social care secretary has defended the government’s latest immigration plans, which would see overseas care workers prevented from bringing their dependents to the UK.

Victoria Atkins told the Health and Social Care Committee this week that new plans to curb the number of immigrant care workers were “sensible” and that she wanted to encourage more British people to choose a career in social care instead.

It comes as home secretary James Cleverley announced a series of measures earlier this month to reduce immigration, including preventing overseas care workers from bringing dependents to the UK, changing the shortage occupation list and increasing salary requirements for workers.

Ms Atkins backed the move, and claimed the government had “got to a very sensible place” with the measures.

She said: “The government is clear that we need to tackle migration, both legal and illegal – the numbers are too high.”

One of the measures that is going to be introduced by the government is only allowing care providers that are regulated by the Care Quality Commission to sponsor migrant workers.

Ms Aktins said this had been “very much widely welcomed by the sector” as a way to address reports of rising exploitation of care workers.

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She added: “I’ve heard from many people concerns about how some unscrupulous providers or people are trying to use this route in order to exploit or to bring people over, and then they are being put to work elsewhere.

“That is not right and so we are fixing that.”

Many nursing leaders have criticised the proposals, warning that they could deter care workers from coming to the UK and, as a result, worsen the workforce shortages in the sector.

It comes as there are 152,000 vacancies across adult social care in England.

However, Ms Atkins said she was confident that, despite the restrictions, the UK would “still be able to maintain the level of interest” for international care workers.

Secretary of state for health and social care, Victoria Atkins

Victoria Atkins

“This is about raising the status of social care as a career,” she said.

“International recruitment is an important part of that…nonetheless we as a country must tackle high migration [and] we must do so in a way that is fair to all residents.”

Ms Atkins told the committee that she wanted to focus on recruiting “high quality people” to the social care sector who already live in the UK.

She noted that, in the summer, the government had unveiled a £600m funding package to improve recruitment and retention in social care.

As part of this, local authorities were urged to use this funding to grow workforce capacity, including improving pay for people who work in care.

Ms Atkins added: “We very much want to raise the status of social care as a career at the moment.

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“It can sometimes be seen as [just] a job, and it doesn’t quite have the same status that I think it deserves.”

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