dct in Exeter, Devon

Brexit and the future of migrants in the social care workforce

There has been intense speculation about the future residence rights of the estimated three million EU migrants already living in Britain - however, to date, it has been argued that not enough attention has been given to what Brexit means for the country’s social care workforce.

As a member of the European Union, the UK is part of the European Economic Area (EEA), within which there is free movement of labour. At the moment it is unclear what restrictions there will be on immigration from the EEA post-Brexit and what the status will be of current migrants who do not have UK citizenship.

The report states recruitment and retention of staff already pose serious challenges to the sector, with vacancy rates standing at 5.1% this year and turnover reaching 24.3% - The loss of migrant workers from the EEA, it said, would make it “impossible to close the already sizeable social care workforce gap”.

The report found that in recent years the adult social care workforce had become more dependent on migration from the EEA. In 2016, 80% of all migrant workers who came to England to work in adult social care came from an EEA country. Any restrictions to the migration of European citizens would likely reduce the overall number of workers in the social care sector, making it even harder to recruit and retain the necessary numbers of staff.

This reflects increased restrictions on immigration from outside the EEA, for example through the coalition government’s decision in 2012 to remove “senior care workers” from the list of shortage occupations for which staff could be recruited from outside the EEA.

Projecting ahead, the report warned that the social care sector faced a significant workforce gap whatever happened on immigration. On the Office for National Statistics current projections for immigration, there would be a shortfall of over 700,000 workers by 2037 unless the care sector became more attractive to UK-born people.



  • Around 1 in 20 (6%) of England’s growing social care workforce are EEA migrants, equating to around 84,000 people. Further, more than 90% of those EEA migrants (78,000) do not have British citizenship - meaning they could be at risk of changes to their immigration status following Brexit. This is over 5% of the total care workforce. If these workers were stripped of their right to work then London and the South East would lose a tenth of their care workforce, warned the study.
  • In a zero net migration scenario, the social care workforce gap could reach just above 1.1 million workers by 2037. This means that there would be 13.5 older people for every care worker – compared to a ratio of seven for every care worker today. This is a workforce gap which, by 2037, is around 70,000 workers larger than our worst predictions in our analysis pre-EU referendum.
  • In a (more likely) low-migration scenario, where the sector remains as attractive as it is today, but the government delivers on its commitment to reduce levels of net migration, there will be a social care workforce gap of more than 750,000 people by 2037.
  • Even in a scenario where there are high levels of migration and the care sector becomes more attractive, the social care gap will be as big as 350,000 people by 2037.The implications of a social care workforce gap of between 350,000 and 1.1 million workers for older and disabled people are that far fewer will potentially be able to access the care they need to live meaningful, independent lives.


  • That work take place to increase the attractiveness of the social care sector to UK-born workers, by offering more apprenticeships and attracting more men into the sector.
  • A fundamental look at the way care is funded and delivered in England.
  • Immigration policy to reflect the needs of the older and disabled people who rely on social care for their independence 
  • That the government ensures all EEA migrants currently working in UK social care have the right to remain post-Brexit.
  • That the government ensures future migrant social care workers are appropriately recognised in any new approach to migration.