Social care system 'would collapse without migrant workers', Unison warns, amid reports over ban on dependents

The government reportedly wants to ban social care workers with visas from bringing their families - including their children - to reduce migration.
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

The social care system would collapse without migrant workers, a leading union has warned, amid reports the government will ban staff from abroad from bringing their spouses and children.

Rishi Sunak is under pressure after yesterday’s (23 November) immigration figures revealed a new net migration record of 745,000 in December 2022, while the latest data for the 12 months to June 2023 showed 672,000 more people arrived in the UK than left. The 2019 Conservative manifesto promised to reduce net migration below the 184,000 figure at the time.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick is reportedly pushing for a ban on foreign social care workers from bringing in any dependents - so their partners and children - and a cap on the total number of NHS and social care visas. When asked by NationalWorld about the possibility of this, the Home Office declined to comment.

The latest Office for National Statistics figures show 143,990 non-EU health and social care workers were granted visas, bringing 173,896 dependents. 

However Unison - the union which represents social care workers - said that instead of “demonising migrant workers”, the government should deliver funding and reform to sector. Head of social care, Gavin Edwards, said: “Migrant workers are propping up a crumbling care system that the government refuses to fund properly.

“Ministers are happy to demonise migrant workers to appease its right-wing backbenchers, but the truth is social care would collapse without them. Instead of causing worry and concern to migrant care workers with these proposals, the government should be delivering the funding and reform the care sector so desperately needs.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A union source also questioned what would happen when care workers, who are already working and living here with their family, need to renew their visa. “Will they need to choose which child to send back to their home country,” they said.

The Health Foundation recently described the social care workforce situation as “dire”. Around one in 10 job vacancies across England are not filled, compared with one in every 29 jobs across the rest of the UK. Brexit initially contributed to a sharp rise in workforce shortages in 2021, and in 2022/23 the government allowed the recruitment of 70,000 staff from abroad.

This highlights a problem the government has in trying to reduce net migration. The two biggest increases in immigrants over the past year was for work and study, with both bringing dependents. Sunak has announced plans to clamp down on student dependents from January, with only those on research postgraduate programmes allowed to bring their partners or children. However, it would likely put off social care workers from moving to the UK if they were unable to bring their immediate family with them.

While Dr Latifa Patel, from the British Medical Association, the union which represents doctors, urged "the government to dismiss these dangerous ideas". She said: "These suggestions are unnecessarily cruel and only serve to vilify those who come to this country and work extremely hard in roles many of us take for granted.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Without our international colleagues' skills and experience, our health system would collapse; the GMC recently highlighted that even with an increase in UK medical school places, it is vital we continue to attract and retain international talent.

"An arbitrary cap on the number of health and social care visas will do nothing to help solve our current workforce crisis. Penalising our international colleagues by setting a minimum income level higher than the average UK salary, which will be out of reach for many in social care, and then separating them from their families is callous and short-sighted.

"We urge the government to dismiss these dangerous ideas. To do otherwise will decimate the social care workforce and exacerbate issues within the wider NHS, putting further strain on an already creaking system and affecting patient care."

Speaking today, the Prime Minister said: “I’m very clear that the levels of migration are too high and they’ve got to come down to more sustainable levels. I’ve been clear about that.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“It is good to see that the ONS yesterday did say that the levels of migration are now slowing — in their words — which is a welcome step. But we’ve got more to go. That is why I announced a policy earlier to clamp down on the number of dependents that students can bring when they’re coming here, where we’ve seen a very significant rise in that.

“That action I took represents the single toughest measure that anyone has taken to bring down the levels of legal migration in a very long time. So that should give people a sense of my commitment to bringing migration down. And if we see further abuse of the system, of course we’re prepared to act to do more.”

The government has hinted it could go further. Yesterday (24 November) a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister told journalists: “We continued to keep all of our immigration policies under constant review and are looking at what further measures may be necessary to further bring down net migration.” NationalWorld understands the government is considering bringing additional immigration legislation before Christmas.

Suella Braverman, who was Home Secretary when net migration hit record levels in December 2022, said the figures were a “slap in the face to the British public who have voted to control and reduce migration at every opportunity”. However her successor James Cleverly played down the figures, telling the Times: “This figure is not showing a significant increase from last year’s figures and is largely in line with our immigration statistics.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Sunak is already under pressure to bring down small boat crossings, with 90,000 asylum seekers arriving in the latest data. The government’s Rwanda plan, which would see refugees sent to the east African nation from processing and resettlement, was declared unlawful by the Supreme Court.

The government has already paid £140 million to Rwanda without a flight taking off, and charities have questioned how effective this policy will be as a deterrent. Sunak is now hoping the twin measure of agreeing a new legally-binding treaty with Rwanda and emergency legislation where Parliament declares the dictatorship safe will allow flights to start in the spring. NationalWorld understands that the treaty has been delayed, and is unlikely to be brought before Parliament next week.

Ralph Blackburn is NationalWorld’s politics editor based in Westminster, where he gets special access to Parliament, MPs and government briefings. If you liked this article you can follow Ralph on X (Twitter) here and sign up to his free weekly newsletter Politics Uncovered, which brings you the latest analysis and gossip from Westminster every Sunday morning.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.