Free article: Brexit: What might it mean for the adult social care workforce?

Published: Tuesday, 06 September 2016

Maria Lagos of Skills for Care looks at the skills shortage in adult social care and how BREXIT may affect this.


  • 12% of adult social care workers are non-EU citizens, and 6% of workers are from the EU. This is approximately 80,000 workers in total.
  • Any changes to the rights of migrant workers could affect the future attractiveness of the UK as a place to live and work.
  • The reliance on migrant labour to fill entry-level jobs should no longer be seen as a long-term solution to supply shortages.
  • Employers must now focus more on how to target and attract indigenous workers.

The adult social care workforce is diverse and has people from many nations in it. Figures in Skills for Care’s National Minimum Dataset for Social Care (NMDS-SC)* suggest that 82% (1.1 million jobs) of the adult social care workforce had British nationality as at 2015. A further 12% (160,000) had a non-EU nationality. Workers with EU nationality made up 6% of the adult social care workforce, equating to around 80,000 jobs.

Skills for Care estimates that around 12% of the EU workers (in the sector as at the end of 2015) arrived in the UK during 2015. Therefore, of the 80,000 EU workers in the sector as at 2015, around 10,000 arrived in the previous 12 months.

EU workers were more highly represented in regulated professional roles, accounting for 9% of these jobs. Managerial roles had the lowest percentage of EU workers (3%, or 5,000 jobs). It can be estimated that about 5% of social workers have an EU (non-British) nationality. That equates to around 900 social workers in total.

In London and the South East, over 10% of all jobs were filled by EU workers (around 20,000 jobs overall in each region). In contrast, only 1% of jobs in the North East were filled by EU workers (around 1,000 jobs in total).

In general, regions in the North of England had fewer EU workers than regions in the Midlands or the South of England.
While it could be argued that, relatively, the number of non-British workers in adult social care is small, it is not an insignifi-cant number of people. For employers, a number of concerns are likely to arise.

The challenges ahead

Existing EU workers are likely to be anxious about whether or not they are going to be able to stay in Britain and what impact any changes to freedom of movement might have. Managing early exits and costs to re-recruit need to be taken account of. Any changes to the rights of migrant workers could impact on the future attractiveness of the UK as a place to live and work.

The reliance on migrant labour to fill entry-level or professional job roles shouldn't be seen as a long-term solution to supply shortages. Brexit should bring a renewed realisation that employers must now focus more on how to target and attract indigenous workers.

Recruitment pressures on the health system, particularly nurses, will also have an impact. In addition there are examples of hospitals setting up their own home care provision with staff terms and conditions that are preferable to those available in social care. This could exacerbate recruitment and retention issues in social care.

To meet the challenges ahead, employers need to focus on workforce planning and capacity issues as they begin to under-stand the make-up of their own workforces and analyse how much they depend on migrant labour.

Recruitment strategies

Now is a good time to revitalise and strengthen the message that social care is a sector of opportunity with vacancies for the right people with the right values and behaviours.

Given the right candidates, employers can train and up-skill individuals so that prior experience or learning is no longer a barrier to entry. Focusing energies on this will support the sector to target and attract more career changers and pick up redun-dant workers from other sectors or unemployed people seeking job opportunities.

Reduced migrant labour may encourage employers to consider developing existing resident workers into existing and emerging (integrated) job roles and this will develop the career pathways for the sector.

One of the priorities for the sector in terms of developing effective recruitment and retention strategies has been to promote the importance of ensuring that the workforce reflects the communities it serves. Cultural competence enhances the quality of the service provided. It is essential therefore that recruitment and retention strategies continue to include innovative ways to target and attract individuals from a wide range of backgrounds to deliver high-quality services. It is clear that the adult social care sector has had a level of success in these recruitment practices in relation to cultural diversity and that the contribution from workers from within the EU plays a vital role in offering person-centred care and support.

With other sectors facing similar uncertainties related to the potential impact of the decision to leave the EU, competition for workers will now be fiercer than ever. This may galvanise health and social care into thinking about more joined-up solutions to target and attract resident labour. This could include more emphasis on widening the talent pool via initiatives such as values-based recruitment, and joint working with the Department for Work and Pensions to capture interest from appropriate unem-ployed and underrepresented groups and individuals (i.e. those furthest away from employment but with potential).

Retaining existing workers will be central, as this has an immediate effect on recruitment. There are many examples of good practice from employers with low turnover rates. This is a subject that Skills for Care is currently investigating and learning from. This will assist other employers to begin to implement good practice in retaining staff.

Managing Brexit issues for your workforce

Be aware that your non-British workers may be feeling anxious about being able to stay in the UK.

Think about your workforce planning and workforce capacity issues and make a plan that helps you to address issues you have identified.

Make sure that you review your recruitment and retention policies to ensure you are maximising your chances of finding the right local mix of workers.

Further information

* NMDS-SC holds information on around 23,000 care-providing establishments and 730,000 adult social care jobs.

About the author

Maria Lagos is Director of Sector Development for Innovation at Skills for Care. Skills for Care is a registered charity that helps create a better-led, skilled and valued adult social care workforce. It provides practical tools and support to help adult social care organisations in England recruit, develop and lead their workforce.

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