Women will be forced to quit their jobs to look after ill or ageing relatives if the supply of EU care workers is severed after Brexit, the Department of Health has warned.
In a worst-case scenario, there could be 28,000 fewer workers in the care sector in England five years after leaving the European Union if employers were no longer able to recruit European Economic Area (EEA) staff, it says.
Its report, a response to the call for evidence issued by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), says women in particular will be forced to take up the slack.
“Considering rising life expectancy, population structural changes (significant increases in those aged 85 and over) as well as increases in the number of people living with one or more long-term conditions, there are significant demand implications for the health and social care workforce,” it says.
“Unless we ensure such demand is met, there is a wider risk to labour market participation more generally, especially when considering increasing social care needs. If we fail to meet social care needs adequately we are likely to see a decrease in labour market participation levels, especially among women, as greater numbers undertake informal care.”
The MAC has been charged with advising the government on the economic and social impacts of the UK’s exit from the EU and on what the immigration system should look like post-Brexit. It is due to publish its guidance next month.
In its evidence, the Department of Health, now the Department of Healthand Social Care, says: “Migration will need to continue to play a vital role in meeting future demand and providing a means of ensuring flexible supply in response to changes in demand for health and care. It is vitally important that any approach to migration prioritises the health and care sector.”
The report says EEA staff make up 7% (90,000) of the adult social care workforce. That number has grown by 32,000 (more than 50%) between 2012-13 and 2016-17. There are 90,000 vacancies in the sector.
EEA workers also account for 15% of dentists, 9.1% of doctors and 5.5% of nurses and midwives. The number of EEA nurses and midwives on the register more than doubled between 2013 and 2017, from 16,798 to 38,024.
While steps have been taken to increase the supply of British nurses and doctors, the dossier says that because this takes time “continued migration across the NHS is vital to maintain service levels”.
Since 2010, the Conservatives have pledged to reduce net immigration to tens of thousands and “taking back control” of migration formed a key plank of the leave campaign during the EU referendum in 2016.
But concerns have repeatedly been raised about the potential impact on the UK workforce. In May, the then-health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said a dedicated health and social visa was “something I should probably raise with the new home secretary”.