The process of exiting the European Union is proving to be a complicated and ever-evolving one.
The BASW UK position reflects on how Brexit will affect the social work profession and what must be prioritised as part of the ongoing negotiations. It has been developed in consultation with BASW country managers in all four nations. We welcome feedback and comments.
EU Nationals in social work need full reassurance of their leave to remain and to work in the UK.
An increase in social workers recruited from within the UK will be needed if Brexit uncertainty results in EU nationals, who are social workers, leaving the country.
The portability of Social Work Qualifications must be guaranteed as part of a deal – both for UK qualified social workers seeking to work in the EU and vice versa.
The rights conferred on UK workers by EU legislation must be brought into UK law.
The UK’s exit from the EU must not result in an erosion of human rights currently secured by EU legislation.
BASW’s engagement with international social work organisations and policy will not be affected and must increase post Brexit.
BASW UK is the country’s largest professional association for social workers with over 21,000 members and offices in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. BASW UK exists to promote the best possible social work services for all people who may need them, whilst also supporting social workers themselves. This is achieved through committing to a code of ethics, undertaking policy work, working with government and engaging with partners especially in the health and social care sectors. At the time of writing BASW has been invited to be a member of the Cavendish Coalition a group of health and social care organisations which acts as a shared voice to influence and lobby on post-EU referendum matters. It also seeks to provide those leading the negotiations with expertise and knowledge on the issues affecting the health and social care workforce.
It is with the success of the negotiations and the well-being of both service users and social workers in mind that BASW UK feels it is necessary to make clear its priorities for a clear arrangement with the European Union post Brexit. Some of these priorities are UK-wide, others will apply specifically to one of the four nations of the UK.
The UK-wide position.
On 23rd June 2016 the UK voted to leave the European Union, although Scotland and Northern Ireland both had a majority vote for remain. The vote in favour of exit, followed by the triggering of Article 50 and the beginning of negotiations has created an environment of uncertainty as to the funding and provision of social work in the UK. Following 8 years of austerity, and with a projected £2.9 billion annual funding gap in social care alone in England and Wales by the end of the decade, this new period of uncertainty is far from welcome.
Social workers as well as service users require urgent reassurance that current levels of service will be maintained as a minimum during the negotiation process and after Britain’s exit from the European Union.
The position of nationals of EU member states
There is a significant number of EU nationals currently employed as social workers, especially in England. If the Government intends to end the free movement of people then plans must be put in place to make sure there is not a shortfall in the overall number of social workers. Crucially EU nationals and their employers need to know how long any transition period post Brexit will be. Workforce planning is a vital part of sustainable social work services but it cannot be effectively carried in an environment of such uncertainty.
A sustainable workforce
If the departure of significant numbers of social workers who are EU nationals is expected then the Government must be prepared to proactively work with BASW, universities and employers to start training the social workers required to step into the breach. Uncertainty about funding for social work students (the social work bursary) will have deterred some UK citizens from training as social workers. Key incentives to train, such as social work bursaries must be maintained and possibly increased if the profession is to attract enough students.
Portability and Equivalence
Portability of social work qualifications between nations should be maintained, meaning that UK qualified and registered social workers can continue to practice in nations of the European Union. If a workforce quota system is introduced portability of qualifications would ensure that EU Nationals could continue to practice in social work in the UK.
Currently the EU guarantees a range of workers' rights. For example, the European Working Time Directive is a piece of EU legislation which affects the number of hours an employee can work before taking a break and how many hours can be worked in a week. This is a crucial protection for social workers who are overloaded as it is. Post-Brexit these protections needs to be enshrined in UK law.
Human rights are at the core of the social work profession. EU Human Rights legislation currently plays a vital role in shaping the rights-based approach to social work in the UK. Service users and social workers with disabilities or from ethnic minority backgrounds, for example, must be able to live and work with confidence that they are protected by UK law, at least to the same degree that they currently benefit from as EU citizens.
Social work is an international profession. Many of the structures and processes of the EU facilitated the process of the exchange of knowledge and good practice. As Brexit approaches, and post-Brexit, BASW will work with a range of agencies and partners to develop and strengthen links with social work practitioners and agencies in the EU nations and beyond.
This position statement now turns to the specific circumstances of each country that have devolved powers.
Wales has some of the poorest regions in the European Union, which is why it receives specific EU funds. Poverty remains a persistent challenge; blighting the life of its citizens as more people experience in-work poverty that is further perpetuated by a zero hours contract landscape. EU funding contributes significantly to the promotion of wellbeing for the citizens in Wales and withdrawal of this funding is likely to push up demand for social work services. The UK Government must take this into consideration post Brexit.
It is not clear at this stage, whether and how the UK Government plans to make up for the loss of EU funding in Wales.
European funding supports early intervention services, such as Flying Start and Families First. The Welsh First Minister has pledged to try to ensure every penny currently funding those projects is maintained, but there remains uncertainty.
The majority of adults in Northern Ireland voted to remain. Unlike in England, very few social workers in Northern Ireland are from overseas so changes to the immigration regime is unlikely to impact workforce supply in the region. The status of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is a grave matter of concern for all communities in Northern Ireland, communities of which social workers are a part. There are further concerns for social workers who live on one side and work on the other. Northern Ireland experiences some of the highest level of deprivation across the UK with an estimated 43% of children in West Belfast growing up in poverty. Mental Health needs are significantly higher - 25% greater than any other part of the UK - a legacy of the armed conflict.
Northern Ireland, because of the very specific circumstances in that country, is in receipt of EU funds that support community services and reconstruction/ reconciliation projects. These services are an important part of the social work offer. It is not clear at this stage how the UK Government will plug any funding gap once EU funding is withdrawn or how funding will be apportioned.
Scotland voted to remain in the EU. There is a strong sense among many that excluding the Scottish Parliament from meaningful deliberation in the aftermath of the EU referendum is neither just nor practicable. More specifically, limiting the free movement of people will have negative consequences for service provision in Scotland since EU nationals represent a significant portion of the social work workforce and indeed that of wider social services, including third sector organisations. There will be a strong negative effect on social work services if the pressures on the NHS increases because of further funding cuts and the loss of migrant workers.
Scotland is a significant beneficiary of EU funds. It is not clear at this stage how the UK Government will plug any funding gap once EU funding is withdrawn, or how funding will be apportioned. The UK government must announce its funding intentions as a matter of urgency.
Like Wales the majority of voters in England elected to leave the European Union, unlike Wales England receives relatively little EU funding with the exception of regions including Cornwall and the North East. If EU funding is lost, those regions are likely to experience a loss of services as well as increased demand. The Government must ensure that these regions in particualr are protected from such a scenario.
Social workers in England are more likely to come from other EU countries than their peers in Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland, so measures to plug the gap in the workforce left by any departing EU citizens must be put in place immediately. Measures should include renewed commitment to social worker bursaries as well as guaranteeing the portability of social work degrees.
BASW will seek answers to some of the more pressing questions surrounding the impact of Brexit on the social work profession as well as on those who use social work services. BASW will ensure that the concerns of its members reach decision makers within the UK Government.
Matters of equivalence and portability will affect European social workers just as much as their British counterparts, there is a clear case for joint efforts to be made with the IFSW to push for a mutually beneficial solution to this problem.
The UK Government must ensure that funding for social work services in all four nations is at the very least maintained at its current levels. To that end, BASW will be seeking to establish funding plans with the relevant government ministers.
BASW will seek to ensure that all of its members can plan their careers and conduct their work in an atmosphere of stability and asks the Government to adjust its approach to negotiations accordingly.