Minister commissions review of social care after end of free movement

Minister asks for early sight of report to ensure "coordinated government response"
Photo: UrbanImages / Alamy Stock Photo

Ministers have commissioned the Home Office’s migration advisers to review how the end to free movement has affected adult social care – seven months after the change took effect.

The Migration Advisory Committee will spend the next nine months considering how the post-Brexit immigration change has affected social-care services, and coming up with recommendations for how to address skills shortages in light of its findings.

In a letter to the MAC this week, immigration minister Kevin Foster said the commission, which will report in April 2022, should look at the adult social-care workforce, including skills shortages; visa options for social-care workers; long-term consequences for workforce recruitment, training and employee terms and conditions.

“I ask you to consider the above points and provide recommendations on how to address the issues which the sector is experiencing with the immigration system and to highlight, where they arise within the scope of the review, wider issues for the government’s consideration, such as employee terms and conditions,” Foster said.

“The government will consider the recommendations and determine the appropriate course of action to take where it relates to reserved matters.”

Accepting the commission in a letter this week, MAC chair Brian Bell stressed that the committee will need the cooperation of several government departments to be successful.

“This is a major piece of work on a complex and important issue. We have seen, during the pandemic, how vital social care is to the health and wellbeing of the UK population. The ending of freedom of movement, following the UK’s exit from the EU, has often been cited as being likely to have a negative impact on social care. You have asked us to consider the size and shape of this impact and potential mitigations, if required,” he said.

He said that as well as conducting primary research and launching a call for evidence, “as an evidence-based body, it is also important for us to be able to undertake the necessary data analysis and modelling to fully inform our response”.

“This will be helped by having access to the necessary data, in a timely fashion, in a form suitable for analysis. We will work with government departments including Home Office, [Office for National Statistics], DHSC, Skills for Care and equivalent bodies within the devolved nations to obtain and analyse relevant data. We will want to consider, where feasible, the differential impacts and experiences by personal characteristics, such as gender, age etc.,” he said.

The MAC produces reports and recommendations for government on immigration matters such as the shortage occupation list; international student visas; and salary thresholds for immigration. Usually, because its members are appointed to be independent advisers, ministers do not see its reports before they are published.

But because the social-care review was made as a commitment from government to parliament, Foster asked the committee to make an exception to this convention. 

“To account for the parliamentary process, which requires the report to be laid in parliament before it is made public and given its cross-cutting nature, I am requesting copies be made available to relevant individuals in No.10, DHSC and the Home Office 48 hours ahead of it being laid before parliament,” he wrote.

I would like to assure you the report will be embargoed and no details relating to the report will be made available before it is laid in parliament," he added.

“This approach will not alter, or influence, the contents of the report, but rather, ensure a coordinated government response ahead of it being laid before parliament. In addition, this will also enable the necessary preparatory administrative action to be undertaken before it is laid."

The MAC will be “free to publish” the report as it normally would once the parliamentary process has been completed, Foster said.

“My officials will work with you to determine the best way to share the report when it is ready,” he added.

In his response, Bell said the committee would accept the “unusual” arrangement Foster proposed – but with some caveats.

“Whilst we are prepared, on this occasion, to make an exception in light of the commitments given – that this will be strictly time limited, will not influence the conclusions, or the MAC’s ability to publish at its discretion – we would not expect this will be repeated for any subsequent MAC commissions,” he said.

“We expect all parties involved will respect the sensitivity of the MAC’s work on such an important subject during the pre-release period.”

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