Scotland has been recognised for its efforts to improve the quality and sustainability of its care sector by attracting and retaining migrant workers, according to a report by the UK Migration Advisory Committee (MAC).
Migrant workers fill the gaps in care workforce
The MAC, an independent body that advises the UK government on migration issues, published its report on the impact of migration on the health and care workforce on 29 March 2023. The report found that migrant workers play a vital role in delivering health and care services across the UK, especially in areas where there are skills shortages or high vacancy rates.
The report highlighted that Scotland has been particularly successful in addressing the challenges faced by the care sector, such as low pay, high turnover, and poor working conditions. Scotland has implemented a range of policies and initiatives to attract and retain migrant workers, such as:
- Offering a living wage of £10.50 per hour to all care workers, regardless of their nationality or immigration status
- Providing free personal care to all adults over 65, regardless of their income or assets
- Creating a national care service, which aims to improve the standards, regulation, and funding of care provision
- Developing a national recruitment campaign, which promotes the benefits and opportunities of working in care
- Supporting the integration and wellbeing of migrant workers, through language courses, cultural awareness training, and mentoring schemes
The MAC praised Scotland for its “ambitious and innovative” approach to transforming the care sector, and said that it has “succeeded in ‘professionalising’ the industry”. The report also noted that Scotland has a higher proportion of migrant workers in the care sector than the rest of the UK, with 12% of the workforce born outside the UK, compared to 9% in England, 7% in Wales, and 6% in Northern Ireland.
Migrant workers face uncertainty and challenges
Despite the positive impact of migrant workers on the care sector, the report also highlighted some of the uncertainties and challenges they face, especially in the context of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic. Some of the issues raised by the report include:
- The potential loss of EU workers, who make up 6% of the care workforce in Scotland, due to the end of free movement and the introduction of the new points-based immigration system
- The difficulty of meeting the salary and qualification requirements for the skilled worker visa, which is the main route for non-EU workers to come to the UK for care work
- The exclusion of care workers from the health and care visa, which offers lower fees and faster processing for eligible health professionals
- The lack of recognition and protection for migrant workers, who may face discrimination, exploitation, or abuse in the workplace or in the society
- The impact of Covid-19 on the health and safety of migrant workers, who may be more exposed to the virus, less able to access testing and vaccination, or more likely to suffer from mental health problems
The report recommended that the UK government should review the immigration rules for care workers, and consider introducing a dedicated visa or a shortage occupation list for the sector. It also suggested that the government should provide more support and guidance for migrant workers, and ensure that they are treated fairly and respectfully.
Migrant workers contribute to the society and economy
The report concluded that migrant workers are an essential and valuable part of the health and care workforce, and that they contribute not only to the delivery of services, but also to the society and economy. The report estimated that migrant workers in the health and care sector add £4.7 billion to the UK GDP, and pay £1.5 billion more in taxes than they receive in benefits.
The report also recognised the diversity and skills that migrant workers bring to the sector, and the positive effects they have on the quality and innovation of care. The report stated that migrant workers “enhance the cultural competence and responsiveness of services, and enrich the lives of service users and colleagues”.
The report acknowledged that migration is not a long-term solution to the challenges faced by the care sector, and that more investment and reform are needed to improve the pay, conditions, and training of the workforce. However, it also emphasised that migration is a “crucial component” of the sector’s sustainability and resilience, and that migrant workers should be “celebrated and supported” for their contributions.