International recruitment in care is helping to restore workforce numbers in the short-term but is not a long-term solution. We must ensure the safety and fair treatment of all care workers, including those coming to the UK on Skilled Worker visas.
Many sponsored workers trained and worked as nurses or care workers in their home countries. They thus bring a wealth of skill and experience to our care services, and we are very grateful for their contribution.
Some agents and employers are providing exemplary support for sponsored workers. Others, regrettably, are failing to do so.
Today, BBC News covered a new report by a charity called Unseen UK, who provide safe houses and support in the community for survivors of trafficking and modern slavery. Unseen is reporting a steep rise in calls to their helpline from overseas workers who came to the UK to help plug staffing gaps in the care sector.
The Homecare Association condemns exploitation of workers and abuse of the Skilled Visa route. Compliance with salary thresholds for sponsored workers is a challenge in homecare. This is due to low fees, zero-hour commissioning, and local authority reliance on framework contracts.
We are concerned by Skills for Care’s data on the proportion of sponsored workers on zero-hour contracts. This is similar to the rest of the homecare workforce, which has also long been a concern to us. The issues experienced by sponsored workers are shining a light on the poor employment conditions of the domestic workforce.
Overseas recruits are at even greater risk because of debt bondage, lack of support, and lack of access to our welfare system. Some places have experienced an influx of new homecare agencies; arrival of sponsored workers; and ballooning numbers of providers on council frameworks.
Additionally, many members are telling us that homecare hours available per provider have fallen dramatically. This risks non-compliance with sponsorship conditions; an increase in staff turnover; a race to the bottom on price; poor quality; and market instability.
We need a coordinated approach to commissioning; CQC registration of services; and granting of Skilled Worker Visas in homecare. Alongside a coordinated mechanism for supporting sponsored workers who need to find another employer, for whatever reason. This needs to operate nationally.
With our colleagues in the Care Provider Alliance, we are working to ensure ethical international recruitment. And in the longer-term we need a strategy and investment to grow and develop our domestic workforce.