The effect of Brexit on the care sector

Since the new EU/UK trade agreement took effect on 1 January 2021, the free movement of labour between UK and the European Economic Area (EEA) has ceased.  Workers arriving from the EU are now subject to the same points based system as workers arriving from non-EEA countries. The system affords exceptions for most NHS workers, however carers in adult social care are not included. This places an additional obstacle for carers wanting to work from the EU to overcome.  

84% of the workforce in adult social care in England is British. 16% is non-British, of this 7% (113,000 jobs) are from EEA countries and 9 % (134,000 jobs) are from non-EEA countries [i].Prior to Brexit, charities such as Age UK and The Care Workers’ Charity wrote about their concerns for the sustainability of staffing within the care sector.  There is a chronic shortage of workers, ONS figures reveal that the adult social care workforce has a (high) vacancy rate of around 8% (equating to 110,000 vacancies)[ii]. Approximately 130,000 new care workers are required each year for social care alone to cope with current levels of demand.  Recruitment and retention for staff in the care sector is hard, with many staff leaving within the first year and the public perception of poor working conditions has led to low recruitment rates.

The care sector, domiciliary care in particular, is already feeling the strain under COVID restrictions and is likely to find it more difficult to recruit and retain staff, possibly leading to the more widespread use of agency staff.

The Government recognises the issue and in January this year committed £120 million to help local authorities support care providers to fill staffing gaps caused by the pandemic. Further, the Government is set to launch an advertising campaign to encourage those recently unemployed or furloughed to take up short-term positions in adult social care; it is also considering an upheaval of the social care system. It is too early to say what this will entail, it may be that a system which is aligned with the NHS, with staff recognised for their qualifications may be more attractive to staff from the UK.

In the meantime, for care providers with a high staff turnover, it is likely to be harder to closely monitor or maintain a record of residents changing  needs.

The care sector should continue to document staff training regularly to ensure compliance with any special conditions on their policy and insurers should be live to additional staffing pressures the care sector may face post Brexit.



Michelle Penn, Partner
Raveena Mehta, Solicitor

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