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DHSC extends scheme to tackle ‘rising unethical recruitment’ in social care

DHSC extends scheme to tackle ‘rising unethical recruitment’ in social care

The government has extended its funding pilot to support international recruitment within adult social care, following rising reports of unethical employment practices within the sector.

The fund, which was first introduced in March 2023 to tackle local challenges around international recruitment and exploitation within the social care sector, will be extended by 12 months and backed by £16m, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has said.

The second phase of the pilot will have a ‘revised focus’ on regional action that ‘prevents and responds’ to exploitative employment practices.

However, Care England – the leading representative body for care providers in the country – said this latest funding announcement would ‘simply not scratch the surface’ for a sector that employed 1.5 million people and that was up against more than 150,000 vacancies.

The £16m grant is available to ‘regional partnerships’ – made up of local authorities and care alliances or other groupings of local providers – over 2024-2025.

The money should be used to facilitate in-country matching of overseas recruits who have been displaced by unethical practices, or by their employer’s licence being revoked, the DHSC said in its latest guidance.

The scheme is also intended to help ‘strengthen’ ethical practices in the international recruitment and employment, as well as ‘develop shared solutions to prevent and respond to exploitative employment issues’.

Applicants for the fund must identify a ‘lead local authority’ to be able to receive the grant on behalf of their partnership of local authorities, care alliances and providers.

The interventions are also expected to be used to support ‘care provider compliance’ with UK Visas and Immigration processes.

The DHSC said in a statement confirming the expansion: ‘Over the past year, alongside an increase in international recruitment of care staff we have also seen a rise in reports of unethical employment practices.

‘The government is committed to continuing to use international recruitment to support the adult social care workforce but wants to increase its focus on ensuring the ethical and sustainable employment of international recruits within the care system.’

It added: ‘Consequently, the government is extending the pilot of this funding for 12 months, with a revised focus on regional and sub regional partners delivering activity which prevents and responds to exploitative employment practices involved with international recruitment of care staff in their regions to ensure that international recruitment can offer a sustainable mechanism for supporting workforce capacity.’

Responding to the funding announcement, Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said: ‘£16 million split across a sector that employs 1.5 million people and is grappling with 152,000 vacancies will simply not scratch the surface.’

He urged the government to ‘move away from short-term, sporadic grants and towards a long-term funding settlement that permits care providers to fundamentally address financial and workforce challenges and gives all parts of the system the ability to meaningfully plan for the future’.

Professor Green added that in Care England’s ‘2023 Sector Pulse Check report’, 84% of providers had said government funding initiatives, such as the international recruitment fund, had ‘no impact’ on their financial sustainability last year.

‘The process of obtaining funding was described as “long, complicated, expensive, and bureaucratic” and there is nothing to suggest that this year it will be any different,’ he said.

The deadline for funding applications is 28 May 2024, with funding to be agreed as soon as possible after bids are received.

Meanwhile, Patricia Marquis, executive director of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in England, said the fund extension was a ‘positive step’, but that ‘greater protection’ for overseas staff was still needed to end unethical recruitment.

She cited a ‘gaping hole’ in the domestic workforce which she said had left care services reliant on overseas staff.

‘The adult social care sector has been buckling under the pressure of vacant posts with more than one in 10 posts empty and a worrying turnover of staff seeing skilled nurses leaving the sector,’ said Ms Marquis.

She added that the ‘the long-term solution’ should be to improve the domestic supply of nursing staff, but also to ensure overseas staff are given the same pay and conditions as their UK-educated colleagues.

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