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7 November 2018 0 Comments
Posted in Health & Social Care, Opinion

Brexit immigration policy: Will it exacerbate the care sector workforce crisis?

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The Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) latest report makes a number of alarming recommendations for EU migration after Brexit, and if adopted by the Government will exacerbate the care sector workforce crisis.

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Global Future reports that, 95,000 (7%) adult social care workers are from the EU. Despite the vital contribution of EU staff, there are 110,000 vacancies in social care. Due to a rapidly ageing population, Skills for Care estimates a shortage of 500,000 by 2030. Other estimates are higher.

What does the MAC recommend?

  1. Increase pay for care staff to attract British nationals

The MAC believes that “jobs are not attractive enough to UK residents at current terms and conditions, leading to reliance on migrant workers” and that the solution to the recruitment and retention crisis is to increase rates of pay for staff. This is misconceived because:

  • Cash strapped councils and central government have no appetite to inject the cash required. ADASS estimates a cost of £3bn a year to match NHS pay rates.
  • Factors other than pay, such as the lack of a formalised career path, unsocial hours, demands of the role, and the negative image portrayed by the media are significant. A 2018 Census wide survey found that 75% of people surveyed would not start a career in social care.
  • Lowest levels of unemployment since 1974 mean that there simply aren’t enough UK workers for care roles.
  1. Tight restrictions on low-skilled EU migrants working in the UK

If free movement ends, the MAC recommends that EU workers be subject to the same visa requirements as migrants from outside the EU under a system similar to the current Tier 2 Points Based system.

This includes a minimum salary requirement of £30,000, which would effectively exclude low-skilled migrants, including care workers, from securing a visa.

  1. The MAC has ruled out special visa rules for sectors that rely heavily on EU workers, including social care.

This is concerning given the current and projected workforce crisis in the care sector.

  1. Extend the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme to fill vacancies in low-skilled roles, including social care.

This proposal is woefully inadequate to cover the expected shortfalls in care staff and doesn’t offer a long term solution.

What is the solution?

  • The Government must develop a viable and sustainable workforce strategy for social care. Significant efforts need to be made to boost the number of UK workers in the care sector. However, this will not happen overnight; it could be decades or more before positive gains are made.
  • Increased pay for staff would help the workforce challenges and must be funded by the Government. However, there does not appear to be any appetite for such investment in the workforce.
  • The Government needs to rethink its proposed restrictions on the recruitment of EU staff into the care sector. Assuming that free movement ends, it is essential that providers continue to have the ability to recruit EU staff (at least in the short to medium term) to keep services operating.

Key to this is the urgent need for the Government to change its perception that care work is “low skilled”, when it is not, and to properly value the work care staff do, as this is the driver for restricting EU migration after Brexit.

  • A viable workforce strategy needs to be urgently implemented for the NHS, so that it becomes less reliant on poaching staff from the social care sector to fill vacancies. Restrictive migration policies post-Brexit will increase staff shortages in the NHS. The solution must not, and cannot, be to fill vacancies with social care staff, who are desperately needed by care providers.

Providers need to find ways to attract staff from other industries with whom they compete with for staff. The challenges facing the retail sector may provide an opportunity. The increasing number of store closures and insolvencies, which are likely to be exacerbated by Brexit, provide an opportunity for a new pool of potential care staff, which should be exploited by providers.


For advice on any immigration or employment law issues for your care business, please contact James Sage on:

01225 730 231     Email

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