I am grateful to the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston for providing the Committee with the opportunity to discuss the amendment, which concerns personal care assistants and exemptions from the £30,000 salary threshold for the future skilled worker route.
First, I assure the Committee that the Government wholeheartedly recognise the tremendous contribution made to the UK by those working in social care and in our wider health and care sector. We remain committed to ensuring that the future immigration system caters to all sectors, including our important NHS and social care sectors, and that it benefits the UK’s economy and our prosperity.
The hon. Lady made some important points, which were echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford, who made some interesting comments, drawing on her experience of chairing the forum in Kent and, in particular, on Clive’s comments. The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston talked about the increase in disabled people and the elderly living independently, and they are able to do so because of personal care assistants. The hon. Member for Wirral South also commented on changing demographics. We are all very conscious of that and absolutely rejoice in and welcome the ability of both the elderly population and the disabled to live much more independently, but I am absolutely alive to the reality that that is brought about in part by personal budgets and the ability to independently employ a personal care assistant in the way that has been outlined.
As Members will know, in December the Government set out our proposals for a future UK skills-based immigration system, which will apply to both EEA and non-EEA nationals alike, and which will prioritise skills over nationality. Under those proposals, we intend to provide for a new skilled worker route, which will be open to medium-skilled occupations—that is at A-level and above—and which will not operate an annual cap or require a resident labour market test for those roles. Collectively, the proposals will ensure that employers seeking to fill vacancies in the UK can do so more quickly and with less bureaucracy.
As the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston outlined, and as the Committee will be aware, the independent Migration Advisory Committee, in its report on EEA migration in the UK, published in September last year, recommended that if, in the skilled route, the permitted skills level is expanded to include intermediate skills, the current minimum salary threshold of £30,000 should be maintained to maximise economic contribution. The MAC noted that 40% of existing jobs in the intermediate skills level meet the current salary thresholds, and £30,000 is the level of household income at which an average family of EEA migrants starts making a positive contribution to public finances.
The Government have noted the MAC’s recommendations and reasoning for recommending the minimum threshold. However, we also recognise that businesses and organisations have concerns about the impact of the threshold on certain occupations and on their ability to attract and access skilled international workers in the future system. That is why, since the White Paper was published, we have been engaging organisations on the proposals in the White Paper as part of a 12-month process, including on the salary threshold, and we will listen to their views before making final decisions as to where any salary threshold should be set. The White Paper is but the start of a national conversation.
In some circumstances, there should be some flexibility to allow migration at lower salary levels. That is already the case in the existing system. New entrants to the labour market, as well as those in certain occupations that are deemed to be in national shortage, are required to earn less than would normally be the case. We have commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to undertake a full review of the shortage occupation list, and it is due to report this spring. The MAC has been clear that it has taken evidence across all skill levels, and if the MAC recommends that certain occupations should be added to the list, we will consider whether there is a case for a lower salary threshold for those occupations, providing they meet the other requirements for the new skilled worker route.
As the MAC set out in its final EEA report, it believes that wages are a critical factor in the recruitment and retention of local workers and that low pay is often the root cause of shortages, not migration. It cites social care in that context. In particular, it says:
“Social care is a sector that struggles to recruit and retain workers which is a cause for concern as demand is rising inexorably. Its basic underlying problem is… poor terms and conditions paid to workers in this sector, in turn caused by the difficulty in finding a sustainable funding model.”