An influential committee has said it is “seriously concerned” about the impact of Brexit on the social care workforce, warning potential restrictions on migrant workers could put the sector under “tremendous pressure”.
A report on future migration patterns by the independent Migration Advisory Committee, published last week, said more than one in 20 social care staff (5.9%) were from the EU in 2017, with staff from new members states making an increasing contribution to the workforce.
It warned record domestic levels of employment, increasing social care vacancy rates and rising demand due to an ageing population meant the “sector could come under tremendous pressure if these positions cannot be filled”.
The report said “these problems are likely to worsen”, with research showing a zero-net migration scenario could create a social care workforce gap of 1.1 million workers by 2037. A low migration scenario, in which the sector remains as attractive as it is now, could lead to a workforce gap of more than 750,000, according to the research.
The reports said: “The combination of rising demand, downward pressure on public spending leading to relatively low wages making many jobs relatively unattractive to resident workers and the absence of a non-EEA (European Economic Area) work-related route for the lower-skilled roles in the sector mean that this is a sector that could face even more serious problems if EEA migration was restricted.”
It also said a scheme aimed at making it easier to hire migrants into social care “would not necessarily make it easier to retain them in the sector” due to low wages and poor terms and conditions caused by the lack of a sustainable funding model.
The report added: “We are seriously concerned about social care but this sector needs a policy wider than just migration policy to fix its many problems.
“This is one illustration of a more general point, that the impacts of migration often depend on other government policies and should not be seen in isolation from the wider context.”
In a briefing paper published earlier this year, the Local Government Association said the reciprocal agreement in the draft withdrawal treaty between the EU and the UK government, which would deliver ‘settled status’ for EU citizens currently living in this country, provided short-term assurance on “residency and employment rights and for the delivery of vital public services”. But it warned this agreement would “fall” in a no-deal scenario.
“We want clear assurance from government in this area,” the LGA said at the time. “Such an assurance is needed as many vital private and public services rely on non-UK, EU workers.
“If such an assurance cannot be given, emergency legislative measures will be needed to protect local public services.”
Speaking at the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services spring seminar in April, social care minister Caroline Dinenage emphasised the importance of a wide-ranging workforce strategy for social care with effective training and attractive career paths. However, she did not mention the potential impact of Brexit and said the government had “limited levers” as most social care providers are in the private sector.