Immigration minister Caroline Nokes has insisted the social care workforce should not be considered unskilled in a post-Brexit immigration system and said the Home Office will do its “utmost” to support councils financially when asylum seekers are housed in their areas.
In an interview with LGC, Ms Nokes said the impact on social care services of an end to free movement for European Union citizens has been the “number one” issue raised with her following the publication of the government’s white paper on proposals for a skills-based immigration system. These included implementing a recommendation by the independent Migration Advisory Committee to set the annual minimum salary at £30,000 to qualify for a work visa.
The committee has subsequently been commissioned to review the salary threshold following concerns it is too high and could result in workforce shortages in some industries and public services.
Ms Nokes said the definition of ‘skilled’ was a “really interesting question” and added proposals for a transitional period for temporary workers in sectors such as agriculture would not be appropriate for social care.
She said: “You and I would understand that people have different skills and abilities and I never suggest anyone working in, for example, social care… [is] unskilled – people who are doing really crucial roles.
“We want continuity. The good employers want to make sure they have a supply of labour that is able to build a rapport with elderly, with disabled people and that is not done in six months.
“Social care is the number one issue that has been raised with me over the course of the last six months. If I stay as immigration minister I am going to continue working with colleagues and working with the sector to understand how we can best put in place a system that is going to work.”
Ms Nokes also discussed asylum seekers. This comes as some new providers prepare to take on their regional dispersal in September.
Councils have previously argued that they have not been consulted on where people have been housed, with concentrations in areas with cheap housing leading to increased pressures on services.
Ms Nokes said she understands the additional financial burden on councils of asylum seekers being placed in their areas and said these costs must be identified accurately.
She added: “It is not always easy for local councils to cope with additional pressures, it is not easy for them to manage budgets at a time when they have been very tight.
“Identify the additional costs you have and we will do our utmost to help. The spending review is round the corner and I think it is really important in the Home Office that we look at asylum… [and] the cost it has on the taxpayer, on us as a department, on local authorities and understand those burdens.”
Speaking at the Local Government Association conference on Thursday, Ms Nokes told delegates about 800,000 of the 3.5 million EU citizens in the UK had so far applied for settled status and none had been rejected.
She thanked local government for its support in helping people through the process and said the scheme was aimed at ensuring “neighbours, colleagues and friends” would remain in the country.
“It is not just that we are saying you can stay but we want you to stay,” she added.