A Cabinet minister’s plan to ban foreign care workers from bringing their dependants into the UK was blocked by other departments and Whitehall officials ahead of record net migration figures, The Telegraph can reveal.
Earlier this year, Steve Barclay is understood to have pushed for a ban on care workers bringing in dependants when he was health secretary, but faced resistance from officials in his own department and ministers in other departments.
The proposal is now part of a plan to reduce net migration – which hit a historic high of 745,000 last year – being promoted by Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, and under consideration by No 10.
On Wednesday, Mr Barclay said the Government needed to “go further faster” to reduce net migration, singling out dependants in the care sector as a target area.
“Within the care market, one of the areas where I know the Home Secretary [James Cleverly] will want to look is dependants of those coming into the care sector,” he told Times Radio.
Revised estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) last Thursday showed that net migration hit a record high in the year to December 2022 – three times pre-Brexit levels. It fell to 672,000 for the year to this June, but this was still higher than the previous year’s 607,000.
Foreign health and social care workers, whose numbers have doubled to 143,990 in just a year, are among the biggest drivers of net migration. This figure has, however, been inflated by the 173,896 dependants they have brought with them.
Mr Barclay was said to have been concerned that visas were being handed out too freely by the Home Office. He believed officials should have found a way to restrict care workers so they came without dependants and that there was a big enough pool of foreign recruits without the need to attract people by allowing relatives in.
He also proposed a clearing house or database for foreign care workers so they could be tracked once they arrived in the UK to ensure they remained in the industry rather than switching to other, better-paid jobs.
No 10 and the Home Office are now considering a crackdown on “abuses” by foreign workers in the care sector because of concerns that some are exploiting it as a back door route to better-paid jobs.
Mr Barclay is also understood to have pushed for a Government boost to council funding to increase the pay rates for care workers in an effort to attract more domestic UK workers into the sector, reducing reliance on foreign staff.
He was concerned that the shortages of staff in social care meant it was difficult to get people out of hospital because there were not enough beds in care homes.
However, without Treasury support, it was blocked – even though the Government’s own migration advisory committee has recommended a similar uplift in care workers’ salaries.
Mr Jenrick has proposed that care workers should be barred from bringing in any dependants for social care. No 10 is considering whether to go for a full ban or restrict numbers to one dependant per applicant.
As revealed by The Telegraph last week, the other three measures backed by Mr Jenrick include raising the minimum wage threshold for skilled workers to at least £35,000, the median salary, a cap on the total number of NHS and social care visas, and scrapping the shortage occupation list, under which firms can pay foreign workers in shortage jobs 20 per cent below the going rate.
At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Rishi Sunak said: “We are reviewing the recommendations of the [migration advisory] committee and we’ll be bringing forward measures on top of the very significant restrictions that we’ve already announced on student dependants.”