Backing from 50 organisations across UK for safeguards to Immigration Bill
Today in the House of Commons I moved New Clause 1 to the Immigration Bill.
This is a bill which we did not want to see and my SNP colleagues and I have done everything to prevent, but safeguards must be in place within the Bill to protect this sector, something the Tory government has singularly failed to do.
The Immigration Bill sees us lose the fundamental right of Freedom of Movement we have all enjoyed and benefited from as part of our membership of the European Union.
Instead, after Brexit at the end of this year, the Tory Government at Westminster wants to bring in a points based immigration system. This will have a huge and, very likely, detrimental impact on the health and social care sector which relies so much on citizens from across the EU being free to travel into the UK for work.
Over the last few months I have been working on this clause, gaining support from over 50 different organisations across all 4 nations of the UK as well as support from colleagues in other parties.
However, when it came to a vote this evening the clause was rejected by 344 votes to 247 with the Government benches unsurprisingly failing to accept or acknowledge that it is in everyone’s interests, including theirs, to review policy, especially a policy which has not been tested and one which will have such a huge impact on the delivery of health and social care across these islands.
No business would sign up to a contract as big as this without building in safeguards for review and I believe the UK Government should do the same. As we have seen over the last few months, access to health and social care is vital and we must be able to deliver it by making sure these sectors have access to a skilled workforce.
The full text of my speech is below:
“Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I rise to move New Clause 1, in my name and in the name of the Hon Members listed on the Order paper.
“New Clause 1 seeks an independent evaluation of the impact of the effects of this Bill, specifically on the Health and Social Care sector. And the reasoning behind this New Clause is that the faith that the Government clearly has in its new points-based immigration scheme, simply isn’t shared by tens of thousands of those working in the Health and Social Care Sector and millions of their service users, right across the UK.
“As of this afternoon, no fewer than 50 organisation have given this New Clasue their backing. Organisations from every part of the United Kingdom including; The Bevan Foundation, The Church of Scotland, UNISON, The MS Society, The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Disability Wales, The National Carers Organisation, The Welsh Council for Voluntary Action,The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, The Scottish Association of Social Workers, British Association of Social Workers in Wales and Northern Ireland, Voluntary Organisations’ Network North East and Camphill Scotland.
“Mr. Speaker, all New Clause 1 asks is that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, having consulted with the relevant ministers in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, as well as service providers and those requiring health and social care services, appoints an independent evaluator to assess the impact of this Bill on the sector and for Parliament to debate and then vote upon on that assessment.
“By accepting New Clause 1, what the Government would be saying to the sector is, we hear what you are saying, we recognise your fears and your concerns but so confident are we that this new proposal will not adversely affect those caring for the weakest and the most vulnerable in our society, that we are happy to have an independent evaluation of the effect of these changes, once it has been implemented.
“And I believe the reason this amendment has received such widespread support among the Health and Social Care Sector is because they, as the people who work on the front line simply cannot see how the ending of freedom of movement and the introduction of a Points-Based Immigration System is going help deliver a better service to the millions of people throughout the UK who rely on the Health and Social Care Sector every day of their lives.
“And one can understand their concerns given that Sector is already struggling to recruit and retain the workforce it requires right now to look after an ageing population, with increasingly complex care needs.
“Mr. Speaker, at the end of September 2019, NHS England reported having more than 120,000 unfilled posts – an increase of 22,000 from the year before. Unfortunately, it’s a pattern being seen right across the UK; a bad situation that’s getting worse.
“And there is genuine concern in the Health and Social Care sector that the Government do not know what to do about it; a concern that only heightened by what’s contained in this Bill.
“Of course, in and of itself, filling those existing vacancies will be a major challenge but it becomes ever more so if the UK Government are genuinely serious about fulfilling the Prime Minister’s pledge to “give every older person the dignity and security they deserve”.
“To do that, not only would they need to fill those 120,000 vacancies but they’d have to vastly increase the number of people recruited into the Sector over a long and sustained period of time.
“The Nuffield Trust have shown that providing just one hour care a day to older people with high needs, who currently get no help would require approximately 50,000 additional home care workers in England alone. And to give them two hours a day would require an extra 90,000 workers.
“Add into that the fact that one in four of the current health and social care workforce are aged 55 plus, and are due to retire at some point in the next 10 years resulting in a further 320,000 vacancies – well Mr. Speaker, you can see why they are very worried indeed.
“So, could the minister explain to me exactly how he believes this Bill and this new points-based immigration system will facilitate finding this army of extra Social Care workers?
“Because I cannot see how it does and more importantly, no one I’ve spoken to in the Health and Social Care Sector sees how it can.
“In fact, the common-held belief is that this Bill will make the recruitment of staff far more difficult and the delivery of what the UK Government claims it wants, well-nigh impossible.
“Mr. Speaker, I have said it before, and I make no apology for repeating that Freedom of Movement has been good for this country and I bitterly regret seeing it go. It has been economically, socially and culturally beneficial and if the UK government are determined to abandon it, then the least it can do is make sure the weakest, the poorest and the most vulnerable are not disproportionally impacted by it.
“I do not believe they have done that. I do not believe for a moment they have considered the impact of this Bill on the Health and Social Care sector.
“But rather than trying to explain from the Dispatch Box how this Bill will not adversely affect the future workforce needs of the Health and Social care sector, the Government, by accepting New Clause 1, will have the chance to prove us all us doubters and nay-sayers wrong by allowing an open, transparent and independent evaluation of the impact of these changes.
“By doing so, they will give the Health and Social Care sector the confidence that this Government does know what it is doing and that they have carefully considered what the ending of freedom of movement will mean and that have a plan in place to protect the sector and those who rely on it.
“Surely the government – if it really is as confident about the efficacy of this new Immigration Bill and the points-based system as it claims – has absolutely nothing to fear from a comprehensive, independent evaluation; one that is there purely to assess the impact of this Bill on the Health and Social Care sectors in each of the four nations of the UK.
“Indeed, I think it would be the prudent and responsible thing for the government to do, in order to ensure that any changes to the immigration system do not – however inadvertently – adversely affect the health and the care needs of our most vulnerable citizens.
“And of course not only would this independent evaluation ensure that no harm was being done to those in receipt of Health and Social Care, but it would give any future government a head-start when planning and making decisions about the health and social care sectors, particularly in relation to recruitment of staff and levels of investment.
“Surely the Minister accepts that such a far-reaching change should not happen on a wing and a prayer, without a proper, bespoke impact assessment or at the very least, an appropriate mechanism by which we are able to accurately measure the effectiveness – or otherwise – of such a radical change of policy.
“Any business taking on such a fundamental change would have put in place means by which to measure precisely what it would mean to the business and its customers.
“It is inconceivable therefore that the government is not doing something similar, particularly with something as important as the health and care of the country’s most vulnerable citizens.
“Not only will New Clause 1 do that, but I believe it will also allow, in the future for a holistic and strategic approach to tackling the issues that will inevitably arise from the UK leaving the EU, and from the introduction of a Points-Based Immigration System, and would ensure that those issues are being tackled from a foundation of accurate and independent research; thereby allowing national Governments, local authorities, the health and social care sectors, the third sector and other key agencies across the UK to make strategic planning decisions, while being fully informed by evidence which is robust and independent – thus helping to secure the future of health and social care in the UK post Brexit.
“Finally, Mr Speaker, I hope the Minister will see that the government has nothing to lose and lots to gain from agreeing to such an independent evaluation of the impact on the Health and Social care sector of the UK leaving the European Union.”