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Brexit and the future of migrants in the social care workforce

Since the referendum of 23 June 2016, there has been intense speculation about the future residence rights of the estimated three million EU migrants already living in Britain. Recent analysis has focused on European Economic Area (EEA) migrants who work as nurses and doctors in the NHS and their future, as the government decides what – if any – guarantees to provide to people already resident in the UK. However, to date, not enough attention has been given to what Brexit means for the country’s social care workforce, increasing numbers of whom come from Europe to provide personal care and support to our ageing population.

In this follow up to our 2015 report ‘Moved to Care’, we have reviewed future workforce shortages in adult social care in England to take account of the EU referendum result. As the government examines options for the country’s future policy on migration from within the EEA, it should ensure whatever approach it adopts responds to serious new concerns regarding the tens of thousands of care workers who are EEA migrants, but whose future immigration status remains highly uncertain.

Potential changes to immigration policy post-Brexit could have serious consequences for the social care workforce unless the necessary work is done now to mitigate any risks. Around 1 in 20 (6%) of England’s growing social care workforce are EEA migrants, equating to around 84,000 people. Further, more than 90% of those EEA migrants (78,000) do not have British citizenship – meaning they could be at risk of changes to their immigration status following Brexit.

Turnover and vacancy rates in the social care workforce have been steadily rising for the past decade, and 2016 saw them rise further to 24.3% and 5.1% respectively. We raise concerns that if thousands of EEA migrant care workers lose their right to work in England as a result of post- Brexit immigration changes, it will be almost impossible to close the already sizable social care workforce gap. In the longer term, the problems are even more far-reaching.

Over the past decade, there has been a significant increase in the proportion of migrants from the EEA in the social care workforce.