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Limits on migration could lead to ‘severe’ care worker shortage

Any limitations on migration after the UK leaves the European Union could make it impossible to fill the staffing gap in the care sector, according to a new report.

The report, from Independent Age and the International Longevity Centre UK (ILC-UK), said that a zero net migration scenario will lead to a shortage of 1.1 million workers in social care by 2037. This would create a ratio of each care worker dealing with 13.7 older people, compared to the seven people for each care worker today.

Even with high migration levels, there will still be a workforce gap of 350,000 people, or 750,000 people with low migration levels.

Today’s warnings follow on from a major report from the King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust, which warned that the social care system is failing patients in part because of existing staff shortages.

Simon Bottery, director of policy at Independent Age, said: “Care services for elderly and disabled people have come to rely on migrant workers, especially from the European Union, so the consequences could be severe if they are unable to work here in future. As with the NHS, we need to secure the right for these essential workers to remain in the UK.

“But in the longer term we have to recruit more British born workers to social care and that means making sure that they are well paid, well trained and secure in their jobs. That can’t happen without a commitment to fund the care sector properly.”

European Economic Area (EEA) migrants have made up an increasingly large proportion of the care workforce as stricter migration rules have been introduced on non-EEA workers. In the first part of 2016, over 80% of migrant care workers who moved to England were from the EEA.

EEA migrants now make up around 6% of the social care workforce, but over 90% of these do not have British citizenship.

The organisations today called on the government to either maintain freedom of movement within the EEA, or offer a special right to remain for care workers.

In addition, the report said that any new migration system should recognise the contributions made by care workers.

But it also recommended making the sector itself more sustainable. This should include a guarantee of sustainable funding, more support for unpaid carers, and attracting more UK residents to work in the sector, such as by offering apprenticeships.

Ben Franklin, head of Economics of Ageing of ILC-UK, explained: “As the population ages we are going to need thousands more care workers to support increased need. It’s vital that the government recognises the invaluable contribution of workers from the EU in the care system and takes this into account when considering future models of delivering care.

“A continual failure to support and enhance the care workforce could result in thousands of frail and older people losing out on the proper care and support that they need.”

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, chair of the LGA community wellbeing board, argued the report’s warnings “are a concern to councils”, as losing any of the sector’s workforce “would have an impact on our ability to manage the increasing levels of demand that we are facing from an ageing population at a time of severe funding pressures”.

A spokesperson for the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services added: “The loss of any of this valuable workforce, in a sector already under pressure from increased demand and staffing challenges, would have a profound effect, and we will seek to take part in any relevant discussions to convey our support for EU workers currently working in our adult social care system.”

In response, a government spokesperson said prime minister Theresa May “has been clear that she wants to protect the status of EU nationals already living here, and the only circumstances in which that wouldn’t be possible is if British citizens’ rights in European member states were not protected in return”.

A recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that 61% of public sector workers feel pessimistic as a result of the UK’s vote to leave the EU.

Manchester City Council has warned that its Work and Health programme could suffer a loss of funding because of the referendum result.

(Image c. CQC)

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