Brexit: End of free movement risks collapse of UK social care, report warns

Charities worry than filling huge number of caring vacancies will become harder outside the bloc

Jon Stone
Europe Correspondent
Tuesday 05 June 2018 19:23
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Immigration after Brexit: What's it going to look like?

The end of EU free movement because of Brexit risks exacerbating the crisis in social care and causing a “domino effect” in the sector, new research has warned.

The services, which face growing demand because of an ageing population, currently have a deficit of 90,000 staff vacancies – with charities increasingly hiring skilled EU nationals to fill posts.

But 87 per cent of all EU charity workers employed in social care would not meet the conditions for work visas currently imposed on non-EU nationals, the study by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) found, leaving charities “facing a perfect storm of high employee churn, skills shortages, low pay, and increasing labour demand”.

Immigration controls are already starving health services of skilled workers, with the government just this week forced to review a migration cap on foreign doctors in response to a growing workforce crisis.

Social care charities, which increasingly prop up overstretched NHS and local authority services, believe it will be more difficult to recruit the staff they need, with most having no experience in handling the complex work visas needed to hire staff from outside the EU, according to the research.

A survey of 100 charity representatives conducted by the Charity Finance Group found around half of respondents believed it would become harder for them to recruit; 62 per cent of them had no experience of using the visa system of recruiting non-EU nationals.

Training domestic workers is often not an option for charities because of funding issues; the Employer Skills Survey found that more than half of such organisations want to do more training but could not because of a lack of funds.

The charity sector too will feel the effects of restricting EU migration, which could have a domino effect on the delivery of social care

Marley Morris, IPPR senior research fellow

Since the year 2000 the number of EU nationals working in the UK’s charity sector has more than doubled from 14,000 to 31,000, with around half of those working social care.

The researchers said that while “the imposition of immigration controls post-Brexit could lead to a dramatic shift in employers’ ability to recruit from the EU”, it was also the case that “falling net EU migration since the referendum result suggests that an impact could be felt even before any changes to free movement rules are introduced”.

Plans to overhaul the funding of the social care system included in the Conservative manifesto were binned after they were branded a “dementia tax” – meaning state-funded services look set to rely on the voluntary sector for a long time to come.

What is still needed to complete a deal with the EU?

The government has not given much detail about what it wants the EU immigration system to look like after Brexit, but Theresa May has repeatedly said “free movement of people will come to an end” once Britain leaves.

Leaked Home Office documents made public in September show the department is considering similar immigration controls to those imposed on people from outside the EU, with strict limits on all but the most highly skilled workers.

A final white paper spelling out options on immigration controls, meant to be released last summer, has still not been published.

Despite being locked in negotiations with the EU for more than a year, the government has also failed to guarantee the free movement rights of EU citizens already living in Britain, even in the case of a no deal.

Under a transition deal struck by negotiators, free movement would continue in the UK until 2021, though in the event of a no deal there would be no transition period and a dramatic cliff-edge exit.

Marley Morris, senior research fellow at IPPR and author of the report, said: “So far the debate about ending freedom of movement has focused on the consequences for the private and public sectors.

“But the charity sector too will feel the effects of restricting EU migration, which could have a domino effect on the delivery of social care.

“The government needs a joined-up approach to immigration rules, skills policy and social care workforce planning to ensure that Brexit provides an opportunity to alleviate, not exacerbate, the continuing pressures on our care system.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “After we leave the EU, we will have in place an immigration system which works in the best interests of the whole of the UK.

“This system will be based on evidence. The government has commissioned advice from the Migration Advisory Committee and we continue to engage with a range of stakeholders, including businesses, NHS leaders and those in the social care sector.”

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