Risk of fewer adult social care workers by 2026

August 28, 2018

Ending freedom of movement after Brexit could mean more than 100,000 fewer adult social care workers by 2026, and a 26% increase in the ratio of over-75s to care workers, according to analysis by Global Future.

The think tank's analysis is suggesting continuing free movement after Brexit for low-skilled social care workers from the European Union to protect the adult social care sector and the millions of people who rely on it.

The report, 100,000 carers missing: how ending free movement could spell disaster for elderly and disabled people, shows:

  • Currently, 222,000 social care staff in England – 17% of the total – are from overseas. Since 2012, the number of care workers from outside the EU has fallen as a result of strict controls on low-skilled non-EU workers, but the number from inside the EU has risen, leaving the total number of foreigners working in the sector roughly constant.
  • Meanwhile, there are 90,000 unfilled social care vacancies and a vacancy rate of 6.6% compared to the labour market average of 2.5%, and the sector is adding a net 18,000 additional British workers a year.
  • If the UK applies similar immigration restrictions on European workers to those currently applied to those from outside the EU, Global Future’s analysis projects 115,000 fewer care staff in England by 2026 than if free movement continues.
  • At the same time, the Office for National Statistics projects that by 2026 there will be 1.5 million more people aged 75 or over. Without free movement, the UK would need to fill 380,000 additional social care jobs just to keep up with the needs of our ageing population.
  • With new immigration restrictions and without a step-change in social care recruitment, the care worker to over-75 ratio is set to rise from 3.4 in 2017 to 4.3 in 2026 – a 26% increase.

This comes at a time when:

  • Cash-strapped employers point to low pay and poor working conditions as the root cause of the recruitment crisis. Increasing care workers’ pay in line with the lowest-paid NHS workers would cost £3bn.
  • Industry experts warn that without migrant workers ‘we would struggle to provide care at all’.

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