The Home Office continued to carry out immigration raids on care homes during the pandemic, new figures reveal, prompting concern that ministers were pursuing the their hostile environment policies over public health.
Data obtained via freedom of information (FOI) laws show immigration enforcement carried out a raid on average every three months in the 21 months to September 2021, including at least one last January, when there was a national lockdown in place.
Of the seven carried out during this period, six led to arrests being made and between one and five led to the apprehended individual being detained (the dataset does not specify numbers below six).
Karolina Gerlich, chief executive of the Care Workers Charity, said that carrying out immigration raids in care homes during the pandemic was “unacceptable” and will have caused “yet another unnecessary stress” to care providers, as well as placing vulnerable individuals’ health at risk.
“We don’t believe it’s the right thing to do at any time. We believe there are better systems in place that could be used than raiding care homes. But to do it during Covid, during lockdown and potentially bringing the virus into care homes is very irresponsible and insensitive to the situation,” she said.
The new figures mark a decrease on the two years before the pandemic, when there were on average 1.4 raids each month, but campaigners said it was “chilling” to learn that any care homes were raided in the middle of the pandemic.
Mary Atkinson, campaigns officer at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), which obtained the figures, said: “These are places where elderly people were barred from seeing or hugging loved ones for months on end, and many still have stringent contact rules in place. But apparently the Home Office saw fit to barge into these homes and arrest carers looking after vulnerable people.
“They reveal a government that is willing to pursue its hostile environment at all costs, instead of prioritising the public’s care and wellbeing.”
The Home Office says its immigration officers give due consideration to establishing contact with the care home providers and work with the Care Quality Commission and local authorities before undertaking raids.
Previous FOI data obtained by JCWI shows that between 2015 and 2019 there were 190 raids carried out on care homes, resulting in just 37 care workers removed from the UK, raising questions about the efficacy of such raids.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The government is tackling illegal immigration and the harm it causes by removing those with no right to be in the UK.
“Illegal working in the care sector is one of the Home Office’s main illegal working concerns. Protecting vulnerable people is a key part of our responsibility and illegal working in this sector puts vulnerable people at risk by leaving them in the care of individuals whose identity may effectively be unknown.”
They said Covid guidance was adhered to during raids and that they were only undertaken after “careful consideration” and included conducting visits outside of care homes before the worker started their shift.