UK in no position to do without willing EU care workers – What does Brexit means for the care sector?


The already fragile social care workforce will receive a further body blow under any Brexit scenario and older people in the South could be especially badly hit, the charity Age UK warns. But it is not too late to change this: Age UK is asking the Government to put measures in place now to allow EU nationals to continue to come to the UK to work as paid care staff, whatever happens with ‘Brexit’.

With around 110,000 job vacancies in care in England, more than 3 in 10 staff leaving each year, and 104,000 care jobs (1) and rising held by EU nationals, the Charity is calling on the Government to take action so that older people and their families can still be confident of getting the care they rely on in future.

Age UK is arguing that care workers should not be covered by the new rule recommended by the Government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) that ‘low skilled EU workers’ should no longer have preferential access to the UK labour market after a UK withdrawal from the EU. The Charity says that care workers are low paid, not low skilled. In addition, the Charity fears that care is in no fit state to withstand the systemic shock that such a move would represent. EU nationals who work in social care are concentrated in particular areas of the country, with the highest proportion in London where 1 in 7(2) are from the EU and significant numbers also to be found in the South West and South East, the Home Counties, Midlands and Manchester.

‘Live in care’ is growing in popularity in the UK because most older people would like to stay in their own homes for as long as possible, and significant numbers of live in carers are from the EU, as well as from other countries further afield. The Charity has raised concerns over the impact of Brexit on live in carers who travel in and out of the country on a regular basis from other parts of the EU, rotating with one or more others. Any disruption to travel after a disorderly UK withdrawal would hit such arrangements very hard, causing big and immediate problems for older people. But more broadly, in the longer term, if care workers based in the EU are no longer able to work as live in carers in the UK live in care companies will find it hard to meet rising demand, the Charity fears.

The Charity has written to the Home Secretary about these concerns, urging the Government to exempt care workers from the new rules that will otherwise exclude EU nationals from coming here to work. It has not yet received a reply. The Charity notes however that the Government has already made a partial exemption from the same rules for fruit pickers.

Recent research (1) shows that 130,000 (3) new workers are needed each year just for the social care workforce to stand still. Meanwhile, the numbers of 65+s in England are projected to increase from 10 million in 2017 to 14.5 million in 2035, a rise of 44%. Around 650,000 extra jobs will be needed in adult care by 2035 (4) to match this increased demand. Furthermore, the average age of the adult care workforce is 43 years old, with 320,000 workers aged over 55 (5) Significant numbers of care staff are therefore likely to retire in the next decade, making a situation that is already difficult even worse. These numbers demonstrate just how fragile the social care workforce has become – it is in no position to withstand the loss of good, willing care workers, from wherever they may come.

According to the Government’s ‘EU Settlement Scheme: statement of intent’ the rights of EU citizens living in the UK will not change until after 31st December 2020. However, anecdotal reports from care companies suggest that some EU nationals are already going home because they no longer feel welcome. In any event, whether EU nationals already in the UK decide to stay or not, turning off the supply of EU care workers in future is potentially a much bigger threat.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said: “The social care workforce is already struggling but if after a UK withdrawal we shut the door on staff from the EU we’ll make a bad situation even worse. Live in care and social care in London and across the South of England seem especially threatened because EU nationals are concentrated here; there’s no way these people can be quickly or easily replaced, and social care is losing staff as it is.
“Care work is low paid, not low skilled, so it is quite wrong that it is being caught by the new rules proposed by the Migration Advisory Committee. The Government should recognise this and allow EU nationals to continue to come and work as paid carers.
“The Government has granted a partial exemption from the new rules for fruit pickers and Age UK believes it should remove care workers from this proposed post Brexit regime altogether. Does the Government really think that being able to eat home grown Granny Smiths is more important than ensuring that ‘Grannies and Grandpas’ up and down the country can get the care they need? If Ministers do not budge on their current plans this will be the implication. They should do the right thing and allow EU nationals to continue to work in the care sector.”


Responding to Age UK’s warnings to the Government to continue allowing EU staff to work in the UK after Brexit, Nuffield Trust Deputy Director of Policy Natasha Curry said:

“As we have previously warned, these immigration proposals are likely to exacerbate an already worrying situation. [1] If migration from the EU stopped in a worst case scenario, we could face an additional shortfall of 70,000 by the middle of next decade. [2] With shortages above 100,000 already, we need to be attracting more staff from other countries, not making it more difficult to recruit and retain them.

“We desperately need a radical reform that addresses not just the staffing of social care but also the funding and delivery of services in the long term. We remain hopeful that the upcoming green paper will take us a step closer to achieving that – this issue just can’t be dodged anymore.”


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