The number of non-British EU nationals working in the UK’s social care system has increased by over 40% in the last three years.
Government data shows an increase from 65,000 in December 2013 to 92,000 in September 2016. Raising fears that if immigration and/or access to work visas is restricted post Brexit, the resulting squeeze on staff numbers could break the already stressed care sector.
In all, EU workers make up 7% of the social care workforce, although the numbers vary significantly from region to region, with only 2% of the workforce coming from the EU in the north-east, and 12% in London.
Talking to the Observer, Dr Sarah Wollaston, Chair of the Commons Health Comittee, said “I am very concerned about existing workers, but I am also concerned about future staff,” Wollaston said. “The government has to ensure that those who need care are not left high and dry when we leave the EU.”
During an appearance before the health select committee last month, health secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted that the system would not be able to operate without EU workers, saying: “Frankly, we would fall over without their help.”
Whilst government officials keep stating that they are confident that Europeans will still be able to live and work in the UK, supporting sectors including health and social care, no detailed plans have been forthcoming.
On a visit to Estonia, Brexit minister David Davis promised that Britain’s door won’t ‘suddenly shut’.
Speaking on the visit he went on to admit that “In the hospitality sector, hotels and restaurants, in the social care sector, working in agriculture, it will take time. It will be years and years before we get British citizens to do those jobs.
He went on to reassure his audience “Don’t expect just because we’re changing who makes the decision on the policy, the door will suddenly shut – it won’t.”
Time will only tell if these reassuring words will be enough to give workers the confidence to make the move and live and work in the UK.