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Brexit and social care: What does the future look like?

24 Oct 2019
Posted by: Jonathan Wadsworth

As the United Kingdom edges nearer to a long-awaited Brexit outcome, businesses and professionals alike are beginning to prepare for the impact it may have on their industries. And while most markets will see some repercussions no matter the result of negotiations, the social care sector in particular can expect to see changes. With 9.3 million people living in the UK in 2018 born outside of this country – making up 14% of the population – it’s natural that there is concern about how an exit from the EU might impact not only the social care workforce, but also those who receive care.

An overview of the social care market currently

There are currently just under 1.5 million people working in adult social care in the UK, with 19,000 new jobs created between 2017 and 2018. What’s more, the adult social care workforce is predicted to increase by 36% - that’s 580,000 additional jobs – by 2035 if it grows proportionally to the predicted number of people aged 65 or older in the population. Quite simply, we have an ageing population which will require more care in the coming years, which in turn presents the need for more care professionals in the UK. With additional changes such as the shift away from local authority jobs towards the independent sector and upcoming tax regulation updates, we can expect the social care landscape to continue to evolve in coming years. So, what factor will Brexit play in that?

Migrants working in social care

As an industry, social care is made up of a plethora of ages, races and backgrounds. Most importantly, the UK social care workforce represents countries all over the world, with migrant workers making up 18% of the total UK social care workforce, of which 104,000 are EU nationals. The social care sector is already under threat due to demographic pressures and an ageing, long-living population, in which it’s predicted that by 2030 there will be 45% more people living with diabetes and 80% more people living with dementia. This means more people will need care, but there is already an average vacancy rate of 7.8% across the sector in England, according to Skills for Care. Add to this a high turnover rate and a strong reliance on non-UK workers and we’re potentially looking at a very unstable post-Brexit workforce.

This concern is echoed throughout the industry, with an Independent Migration Advisory Committee report expressing concern about the impact of Brexit on the workforce, saying that restrictions on migrant workers could put the sector under increased pressure. What’s more, the report says, a zero-net migration scenario could create a gap of 1.1 million workers by 2037 within social care, while a low migration scenario could lead to a gap of 750,000. Demand will continue to rise for skilled care professionals, and if EEA migration is restricted due to Brexit then we could see a considerable imbalance between supply and demand. The Government’s Migration Advisory Committee has recommended a new rule that would see carers considered ‘low skill EU workers’, meaning they would not have preferential access to the UK labour market after leaving the EU.

That said, there is hope yet for the sector in a post-Brexit economy, with the EU Settlement Scheme allowing EU social care workers currently living in the UK to apply to remain in the country beyond 2020. There have also been proposed temporary work permits, which would see EU citizens allowed to come to the UK for a limited amount of time.

A wide-ranging workforce strategy is required to meet the upcoming challenges head-on, and should include a clear plan to improve the attractiveness of social care to British-born workers as well as investment in training, apprenticeships and career development to help entice more people into the sector. It may also be possible to encourage ex-care professionals to re-join the workforce, whether that’s through return to work schemes or providing opportunities for flexible working.

If highly skilled roles within the adult social care sector, such as care professional and therapist, were added to the Shortage Occupation List, this would make it easier for employers to recruit candidates from overseas. This relies on a dedicated review of the UK’s workforce planning approaches across the health and social care sector, in addition to efforts from employers to boost the profile of social care work as a viable career option.

Find your next social work job with Charles Hunter Associates

Whatever the Brexit outcome, we have a wide variety of roles available for social care workers and care professionals across the United Kingdom. Whether you’re looking for contract, permanent or temporary social work, we can help. View our latest social work jobs now to get started.