Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
In that case, I agree with the noble Baroness. However, the main part of my point was related to the issue on which my noble friend Lady McIntosh challenged me. She asked whether, given my background, I could see the problems to which noble Lords are referring. I can absolutely see them. In fact, in 2005, when I was a new leader of a council, and David Cameron a new leader of the Opposition, he asked me what the biggest challenge was for local authorities. Straight off, I said social care, and, 15 years later, that remains the case. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referenced those who care voluntarily. There are so many that they save the state billions of pounds a year for the work that they do without being paid. I therefore join noble Lords in paying tribute to this sector, which has done so much, particularly during the pandemic. As the noble Lord, Lord Patel, said, people in social care have given and lost their lives to the fight against the disease.
I turn next to points about the Migration Advisory Committee. First, I turn to the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, which he has made before, about the contradictory nature of what we are debating. In one sense, we highly value our social care workers and in another, as someone else said, they earn less, in some cases, than retail workers. That is the challenge at the heart of this: social care needs to be paid decently and seen as a decent career path for people to want to go into it.
I could stand at this Dispatch Box and give my view on the silver bullet that would sort this all out, but I am afraid that I cannot. It is not that it is above my pay grade but, as my noble friend Lord Horam said, this is a challenge for every department and government —and, actually, every one of us. I had a chat with my noble friend Lord Hodgson before this debate; he is probably sitting there very frustrated because he did not put his name down to speak, and I know that he would have wanted to talk about the report that the MAC issued yesterday on the review of the shortage occupation list. One of its key findings is that senior care workers, nursing auxiliaries and nursing assistants should be added to the UK-wide shortage occupation list. The Government want to take time to consider carefully what the MAC has said—as noble Lords I have said, it is a 650- page document—before we take any final decisions, and we will of course respond in due course.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, challenged me for a timescale, and “in due course” is about as far as I can go at this stage. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, talked about the devolved Administrations’ part in all this. Of course, it is a reserved matter. The new system will work for the whole of the UK and we have a national advisory group, with which we are engaged on the proposals, but it includes the Welsh NHS Confederation, Social Care Wales, NHS Scotland and Scottish social carers.
I turn to the amendments at hand. Amendment 3 returns to issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, in Committee, but it also incorporates a requirement to report on immigration routes for social care workers, which was raised during Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and goes to the essence of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in Committee, about a specific route for the social care sector. During our debate in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, rightly highlighted the significant shortages in the social care sector, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, amounting to around 120,000 vacancies. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, also talked about the high turnover, which I think I said was 31%, but he thinks might be even higher.
We must keep it in mind that that is the situation despite the fact that EEA and Swiss citizens have had, and continue to have, free movement rights up to the end of this year. The noble Lord also highlighted the fact that the social care workforce is made up of approximately 83% British citizens, 7% from the EEA countries and about 9% from non-EEA countries. What struck me as interesting about those figures is that a higher percentage of people from non-EEA countries than from EEA countries are working in social care, even though they have no dedicated route to do so. Currently, while social care workers do not meet the skills threshold, a range of other immigration routes are available to them which provide a general right to work, such as dependants, those on family routes or youth mobility.
As part of the UK’s new points-based immigration system, we are expanding the skills threshold, which will bring jobs such as senior care workers within scope of the skilled worker route. Increasingly, people of all nationalities will be able to benefit from this offer providing they meet the other requirements, such as salary threshold. However, I want to be clear that, as my noble friend Lord Horam points out, the Government do not see the immigration system as the solution to all issues in the social care sector. I think there is now general acceptance across your Lordships’ House that that is the case.
With that in mind, we are working alongside the sector to ensure that the workforce has the right number of people to meet increasing demands, with the right skills, knowledge and approach to deliver quality, compassionate care. The Department of Health and Social Care has launched a new national recruitment campaign called Every Day Is Different to run across broadcast, digital and social media. The campaign highlights the vital role that the social care workforce is playing during this pandemic, along with the longer-term opportunities of working in care.
The Government have also commissioned Skills for Care to scale up capacity for digital induction training provided free of charge under DHSC’s workforce development fund. This training is available for redeployees, new starters, existing staff and volunteers through 12 of Skills for Care’s endorsed training providers. The Government are committing record investment to the NHS, including the NHS long-term funding settlement, which has now been enshrined in law. At the Budget, the Chancellor outlined over £6 billion of further new spending in this Parliament to support the NHS. This includes £5.4 billion to meet our manifesto commitments of 50,000 more nurses, 50 million additional appointments in primary care, more funding for hospital car parking and establishing a learning disability and autism community discharge grant to support discharges into the community.
As my noble friend Lord Horam pointed out, we are also investing in social care. DHSC is providing councils with access to an additional £1.5 billion for adult and children’s social care in 2021. We have also announced £2.9 billion to help local authorities in response to the coronavirus crisis. The Department of Health and Social Care is also working closely with Skills for Care to help employers train new recruits and volunteers and to refresh the skills of its current workforce.
In Committee, the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Masham of Ilton, highlighted that working in social care, especially when caring for people who have severe disabilities, requires much more than just technical skills. I totally agree. Social care jobs will not be for everyone. However, it is a sad consequence of the current pandemic that many people have lost their jobs. While not all of them will have the necessary caring skills, I think there are many people in the UK who really do care, and it is vital that we take the opportunity to emphasise the importance of social care work and ensure that it is a rewarding job for people.
The view that migration is not the solution to the challenges faced by the care sector is supported by the Migration Advisory Committee. My noble friends Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts and Lord Lilley referred to that in Committee. We need to make changes to the way we train, recruit , attract and, crucially, retain staff in health and social care, but without making changes, the immigration system will continue to be used as a failsafe to maintain a broken system that relies on bringing people in on minimum wage and holding down wages.
The Government continue to commission and fund a range of training opportunities to help recruit people into the sector and develop leadership within social care. This includes the Think Ahead programme, which has taken on more than 400 applicants since it was launched in 2015. It trains graduates to become mental health social workers. There is also the workforce development fund, which helped nearly 2,800 establishments to support nearly 14,500 learners in 2018-19. This fund will continue to focus on key priorities in future.
Turning to the specifics of the amendment, it is of course sensible that policies are kept under review—something the Government stand by in the current system and will ensure continues under new arrangements. We already have the MAC, and its advice has been accepted by all types of Government over many years. I know that some noble Lords do not share my views on the expert advice provided by the MAC, but surely there cannot be disagreement that the MAC has repeatedly considered the needs of the social care sector, as referenced by the report yesterday.
We should not take for granted the Government’s own extensive engagement with stakeholders across the whole of the UK, and indeed the critical role that this House plays in scrutinising policies and intentions. So I do understand the intent of the noble Lord’s amendment to ensure the protection of a vital sector. We already have a world-class independent body with new autonomy to review any part of our immigration system, as referenced today, in the last 24 hours. I hope the noble Lord will therefore feel that Amendment 3 is not necessary and will be happy to withdraw it.