Most care staff who migrated from Europe are at risk of losing their right to work in England, resulting in severe consequences for the sector, a report today has warned.
Independent Age estimated that 78,000 of the 84,000 migrants from the European Economic Area (EEA) working in adult social care did not have British citizenship, meaning they could be vulnerable to changes to their immigration status following Brexit. This is over 5% of the total care workforce.
If these workers were stripped of their right to work then London and the South East would lose a tenth of their care workforce, warned the study, Brexit and the future of migrants in the social care workforce.
This was in a context in which recruitment and retention of staff already pose serious challenges to the sector, the report said, with vacancy rates standing at 5.1% this year and turnover reaching 24.3%. The loss of migrant workers from the EEA, it said, would make it “impossible to close the already sizeable social care workforce gap”.
As a member of the European Union, the UK is part of the EEA, within which there is free movement of labour. At the moment it is unclear what restrictions there will be on immigration from the EEA post-Brexit and what the status will be of current migrants who do not have UK citizenship.
The report found that in recent years the adult social care workforce had become more dependent on migration from the EEA. In 2016, 80% of all migrant workers who came to England to work in adult social care came from an EEA country – the reverse of the situation in 1995, when 80% of migrant staff came from outside the EEA.
This reflects increased restrictions on immigration from outside the EEA, for example through the coalition government’s decision in 2012 to remove “senior care workers” from the list of shortage occupations for which staff could be recruited from outside the EEA.
Projecting ahead, the report warned that the social care sector faced a significant workforce gap whatever happened on immigration. On the Office for National Statistics current projections for immigration, there would be a shortfall of over 700,000 workers by 2037 unless the care sector became more attractive to UK-born people.
Right to remain
The report made the following recommendations:
- That work take place to increase the attractiveness of the social care sector to UK-born workers, by offering more apprenticeships and attracting more men into the sector.
- That the government ensures all EEA migrants currently working in UK social care have the right to remain post-Brexit.
- That the government ensures future migrant social care workers are appropriately recognised in any new approach to migration.
“Millions of people receive a service from adult social care thanks to the contribution of staff from all over the world,” a spokesperson for the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) said in response to the report’s findings.
“The loss of any of this valuable workforce, in a sector already under pressure from increased demand and staffing challenges, would have a profound effect, and we will seek to take part in any relevant discussions to convey our support for EU workers currently working in our adult social care system.
The spokesperson added: “It’s important to remind any non-British EU workers, and those whose care is provided by them, that nothing will change for some time; until new laws are passed by the government, the rights of all EU citizens to live and work in the UK will not change. Until then, we will be working to improve recruitment, training and staff retention in the social care sector to make sure it’s ready for any challenges that come in the future.”