Brexit will leave UK short of 380,000 care workers by 2026, analysis suggests

Austerity hit social care already 90,000 staff short but end of free movement for low skilled workers will see crisis rapidly worsen

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Wednesday 22 August 2018 19:03 BST
What does a no-deal Brexit mean?

England will be short of nearly 400,000 carers to look after the booming older population unless it strikes a deal to guarantee the free movement of EU staff on which the sector relies, a new analysis claims.

Using Office of National Statistics data, the think tank Global Future predicts England will have a shortfall of 380,000 workers by 2026 unless low-skilled roles can be filled with people from overseas, something at odds with government Brexit plans.

The UK’s 1.34 million adult social care workforces is currently short of 90,000 staff, a vacancy rate of 6.6 per cent – three times higher than the UK labour market average.

Demand for carers is growing as the UK’s population ages, with 1.5 million more people over 75 expected in England by 2026 around 420,000 more workers will be needed to keep up.

But chronic underfunding of social care has seriously harmed the sector’s ability to recruit from the UK, and without something to enable staff from overseas to come and work it is only likely to get 10 per cent of the growth it needs.

Global Future director Peter Starkings told The Independent the government must not make it harder to attract people to work in the UK after Brexit.

“Ministers have got to stop treating social care as an afterthought and get serious about ensuring our loved ones are properly cared for,” Mr Starkings said.

“Keeping free movement in the sector is a first step, but the government has to do more. Without action our care sector faces a staffing shortfall of almost 400,000 by 2026.

“That must not be allowed to happen.”

Other requirements to fortify the sector include a national recruitment campaign and opportunities for career progression, which the government says it is planning.

It has yet to commit to pay increases and funding for the sector which has endured nearly a decade of austerity and no end is in sight.

One in every six adult social care roles in England is filled by carers from outside the UK. Strict visa limits on low-skilled workers have seriously curtailed the ability of staff from outside the EU to work, so and the EU workforce has increased to fill this gap.

However, leaked drafts of the governments’ Brexit plans suggest similar caps for low-skilled workers from the EU will be introduced when the UK leaves and this could spell disaster for the sector.

If freedom of movement continues after 2019, Global Future predicts the workforce will continue to grow at current rates and will be 115,000 stronger by 2026 – a shortfall of 265,000.

Experts and polling suggests the prospect of Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal increasingly looks like a 50/50 chance, and the uncertainty for workers is making matters worse.

“The government’s chaotic approach to Brexit is making the workforce crisis in social care even worse,” said Barbara Keeley MP, Labour’s shadow minister for social care.

“Ministers should immediately make clear that health and care staff are welcome here to care for our sick and our elderly after Britain leaves the European Union.”

The government has said leaving the EU will mean an immigration system that works for the whole of the UK.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We recognise the invaluable contribution of social care workers and we are confident of reaching a deal with the EU which benefits our health and care workforce.

“We want to promote adult social care as a career of choice and ensure the system is able to meet the demands of our growing ageing population. That’s why we are launching a recruitment campaign this autumn to raise the image and profile of the sector.”

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