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Skills for Care recently published a report investigating the contribution of EU workers to the adult social care services in the UK economy. The sector has become more and more reliant on migrant workers, with EU nationals making up around 7% of social work employees. In an industry with such a shortage crisis in terms of recruitment and retention, the value of EU workers is no small matter. The adult social work industry contributed £42bn to the UK economy in 2016/17, and the number of EU workers has risen 2 percentage points, compared to just one percentage point for UK national employees. These statistics show a gradual increase in reliance on foreign nationals to support the social work system within the UK; a process that the implementation of Brexit will change in ways we can’t predict.
Jo Davidson, formerly of Herefordshire council, says the council looked “at all angles” in 2015 to introduce a blend of experienced and inexperienced social workers into the area in 2015. In an attempt to fill a vacancy rate of 37% at the time, the authority took on 10 social workers of Romanian nationality – something that after Brexit may become a lot harder. It’s also no secret it’s currently incredibly difficult to recruit new employees to the social work sector and a fifth of those who do work in the sector are over 55 years, therefore will be looking to retire in the next 10 years or so. If we reduce the access to skilled labour from the EU, Britain will be putting additional unsustainable pressure on the social care sector.
So far, the EU referendum results have not affected the number of active social workers within Britain too much, however the proposed “implementation period” from the Home Office will bring about “key differences” to 2017’s citizen’s rights agreement. This implementation period could present problems to any EU member hoping for employment within the UK. A factsheet published in February this year states that as we will no longer be a member of the EU, arriving EU citizens should have “different expectations about their future rights”. In a sector that is coming to rely on foreign workers to help stay afloat, complicating the employment opportunities for EU social workers could severely hurt adult social work across the UK.
On the other side of things, leaving the EU makes the UK a risky place to seek employment for an EU social worker when their presence in the UK after 5 years cannot be guaranteed. Therefore, even if the eventual Brexit deal does not restrict EU citizen rights within the UK very much, there has still been a change in the emotional pull to work in the UK for EU social workers. The increased visibility for racist, far-right views since Brexit.
In a time when near 100,000 jobs are left vacant, a number only expected to rise, is it really wise to restrict the retention of social workers moving to the UK? Skills for Care CEO Sharon Allen has said “There is no doubt that adult social care faces some really challenging times” and that “informed decisions” will need to be made. Let’s just hope that the negotiators of Brexit recognise the value of EU workers to the sector when making these ‘informed decisions’ about the immigration policies from 2019 onwards.
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