The UK voted to leave the European Union (EU) on 23rd June 2016, with Article 50 triggered on 29th March 2017. With the initial deadline of 29th March 2019 for leaving the EU having passed, there’s no denying that as a country we’re still in limbo; with uncertainty for the future raising lots of questions.
Back in October 2017, we worked with Care Management Matters (CMM) and other leading names in the sector to explore the impact of Brexit on social care - specifically, the workforce.
Here, we review the discussion that took shape around the workforce, recruitment and retention issues faced by Brexit, policy announcements that have since been announced, and potential actions and solutions that can be implemented.
Ever since Brexit was declared on that fateful day in June 2016, it has understandably caused uncertainty and concern amongst EU citizens living in the UK, with regards to their rights.
While agreements were reached whereby EU citizens having lived in the UK for five years or more by 29th March 2019 could apply to stay indefinitely by getting settled status; and citizens having arrived by that date but not worked for five years, could stay until their five years are up before applying for settled status; this still brings implications.
For the care sector in particular, Brexit has already impacted the workforce, and may well continue to do so. For instance, many EU citizens have already left the country due to no longer feeling welcome - there were 132,000 fewer EU nationals working in the UK during July to September 2018, compared to the same time period in 2017.
In addition to this, if the Government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) recommendation of restricting “low skilled” workers (defined as those earning less than £30,000) is implemented; this won’t protect EU workers in the care sector, many of whom are on a yearly wage of less than £30,000 - despite not being low skilled at all.
Age UK is campaigning for care sector workers to be exempt - especially as fruit pickers have already had a partial exemption. While this will go some way towards tackling the issues faced by Brexit and social care, we cannot rely on this alone.
Skills for Care figures have revealed that the social care workforce needs an additional 130,000 workers every single year. By 2035, this will increase to 650,000 extra vacancies, due to the ageing population.
For a sector like social care, which has a dedicated workforce of EU citizens, Brexit is exceptionally worrying. Of the 1.47 million people working in adult social care, 104,000 of these jobs are currently filled by EU nationals. In fact, one in seven care workers in London are from the EU, and numbers are similarly high across Greater Manchester, the Midlands, the Home Counties and the South.
Three in ten care sector staff quit their jobs each year, with the sector suffering from a vacancy rate of 6.6% - much higher than the national average of 2.5%.
From discussions we had at our roundtable, we agreed that the 95,000 EU nationals working in social care add a huge value to the sector, with anecdotal evidence suggesting they’re more likely to take on evening and weekend shifts, or work as live-in care. The impact of Brexit on social care will no doubt be significant, if we don’t work hard to try and resolve things.
The National Minimum Data Set for Social Care suggests that it would take 44 local staff to replace 40 EU nationals, which would further widen the gap for vacancies. In fact, this is already taking effect - the Nursing and Midwifery Council indicated a substantial reduction in the number of applicants to the nursing register from EU nationals, since the referendum. In the last 12 months, the number of European nurses and midwives leaving the register has increased by 67%. The number of new EU nurses joining the register has dropped by 89%.
Brexit aside, the care sector has historically struggled to recruit and retain its workforce, with other factors including the increase in the National Living Wage, the Apprenticeship Levy, and the ongoing issue of sleep-in-shift pay.
In addition to this, due to a general lack of public understanding, negative media, and perception of the sector being low-skilled, low-paid with no opportunities for career progression, has meant there has always been issues with recruitment.
Our number one priority must be to support our existing EU staff. As an employer, informing them of Brexit negotiations, making them feel secure, and providing them with an outlet to air their concerns and worries can be hugely reassuring.
The most important thing is to ensure your staff know they feel valued and supported. If they want to become UK citizens or apply for settled status, then support them in the process, giving them the time they need to apply, attend any meetings and complete the necessary paperwork.
While we must support EU workers, we also need to consider further future-proofing our workforce within the health and social sectors. While many actions must come from the Government, we as a sector can certainly act as the driver for getting these issues resolved.
According to Skills for Care’s State of the Adult Social Care Sector and Workforce Report, published in September 2018 showed that, the average age of a care sector worker is 43, and a fifth are over 55 years old (equating to 320,000 jobs).
As a care provider, it’s imperative that you look at the percentage of workers who are likely to retire within the next five years, in addition to looking at any patterns in staff turnover, or vacancies that have been particularly challenging to fill.
Are there any particular skillsets needed? What types of technology will be implemented in care homes over the coming years? This can help to shape the training that current and future employees will undergo.
With a clearer idea of future vacancies due to employees retiring and the impact of Brexit on social care, it’s time to look at the ways in which we can encourage young people to forge a career within the care sector. Visiting schools to give talks on the benefits and career paths is a great way to start.
This is much easier said than done, but in order to future-proof our workforce - especially after the impact of Brexit on social care is fully felt - the Government needs to be clear on where health and social care sits in its economic growth plans.
With a lack of funding, and promises of a Social Care Green Paper having yet to materialise, it’s hard to promote to others the value our sector has.
Not only do we need recognition and commitment from the Government, we need to encourage them - and others - to shift the focus away from salary, towards the economic value of working within the care sector. After all, care work is far from low-skilled, and is vital for the successful running of society.
As care providers, we all know the huge positive impact EU workers have brought us. However, we need to promote this through discussions and debates so that the Government is aware too, which will hopefully help with Age UK’s campaign for care sector workers to be exempt from the MAC’s recommendation.
Care providers should utilise their HR department or recruitment specialists, so that further considerations can be made for planning and improving care organisations as places to work.
Another thing to consider, is the benefit of diversity EU workers have brought the care sector. The worry is, if EU staff aren’t staying, then our workforce won’t be diverse. We need to ensure that more is done, so that people who support care home residents are as diverse as the residents themselves.
With a 6.6% vacancy rate, and the unfortunate likelihood of this increasing due to Brexit and social care’s close ties, we need to work extra hard to ensure we retain our current workforce.
The social care sector is known for being low-paid, which is why we need to shift the focus away from salary, towards the many alternative benefits that a job in care provides.
To do this, it’s essential to consider what drives your current employees - is it the human interaction they enjoy? Perhaps it’s the flexible working opportunities, or overall job satisfaction?
It’s important to bear these in mind to ensure that these benefits are further promoted, when creating and implementing a recruitment retention strategy.
While you can’t stop every single member of staff leaving, you can find out the reasons behind why they left, so you can stop it from happening in the future.
Once employees have left, keep in touch. There’s no harm in reconnecting over time to see if they’re interested in returning to the care sector - especially if you can show that you resolved the issues that caused them to leave in the first place.
For those looking to progress their careers within care, it can be difficult to get ahold of information on ways they can do that.
That’s why it’s imperative care providers start promoting opportunities within their organisation. From ongoing personal development plans for every single member to staff, to opportunities to specialise in specific skills, showing that there is progression is a great way to retain staff.
However, make sure you don’t assume that everyone wants to get into management - promote opportunities to move into sideways positions across the sector too.
EU workers have had a hugely positive contribution in the care sector, and we all need to work hard to fight for their right to continue working.
From providing ongoing support, to holding discussions with the Government on the need for EU workers to be employed in the sector, there are many initiatives we must work on as care providers, to help resolve the issues faced by Brexit and social care.
However, Brexit has also highlighted the ongoing recruitment issues our sector has continually faced - specifically, encouraging young people to consider a career in care, and retaining our staff.
With the ageing population, it’s clear to see that our sector can’t carry on as it is - action needs to be taken now.