EU workers in Scotland's social care workforce: contribution assessment

Provides estimated numbers and specific roles of EU staff in Scotland's social care workforce.

1. Introduction

Background to the research

The United Kingdom European Union referendum (or the ‘Brexit’ referendum as it is more commonly known) took place on 23 June 2016. The referendum saw a simple majority of 51.9% voting in favour of leaving the EU. On 29 March 2017 the government initiated the official EU withdrawal process, putting the UK on a course to leave the EU by 30 March 2019.

In the interim, the potential impact of Brexit on the UK workforce has been a prominent theme of political and economic discourse. To date the discussion has focused mainly on those sectors of the economy that are particularly dependent on EU workers, with the NHS being the most obvious example. In its submission to a Health Select Committee Inquiry in late 2016, the Nuffield Trust reported that the UK had been identified in comparative studies over many years as having an "exceptionally high reliance" compared to other developed countries on importing foreign staff in order to meet its needs, with 11 per cent of doctors currently registered with the GMC having qualified within the EEA, and 4 per cent of nurses registered with the NMC having originally trained in the EU. [3]

There has been comparatively less focus on the potential impact of Brexit on the social care sector. Yet this sector may be similarly dependent on migrants from the EU to meet its staffing need. Indeed, a previous estimate suggests that, across the UK, around 6% of staff in the sector are EU nationals [4] . Similarly, a 2017 survey undertaken by Scottish Care (the membership organisation for independent sector social care services) indicated that around 6% of care home workers (and 8% of nurses in care homes) employed by their members were EU27 nationals [5] . Anecdotally, Scottish Care have indicated that in care at home and housing support services, around 8% of workers are EU27 nationals [6] .

These figures may underestimate to some extent the current contribution of EU nationals to the sector; both because they exclude workers who have been in the UK long-term and acquired British citizenship, and because they are time bound – trend data suggest that UK reliance on EU workers has been rapidly increasing over recent years, at least in part owing to restrictions on migration from outside the EU. The Nuffield Trust paper cited above reported that, "whereas Asian and African countries were the most significant sources of migrant labour around the turn of the millennium, since 2011 Poland and Romania have become the most common countries of origin."

Thus, any changes to residence rights of EU nationals in light of Brexit could have a significant impact on the sustainability of the social care sector, and at a time when it already faces recruitment challenges. Research conducted by Scottish Care in spring 2018 highlighted inter alia a 28% vacancy rate for nurses in social care [7] .

Feeding into these workforce challenges is of course accelerating demand for care services as a consequence of demographic changes and, in particular, the ageing population, alongside funding constraints. Current projections suggest that Scotland’s population will rise to 5.78 million by 2037, and that the number of people aged 65 and over will increase by 59%, from 0.93 million to 1.47 million [8] . A likely corollary of this shift is a growth in the proportion of people with multiple long-term conditions and increasingly complex care needs. Indeed, as the Scottish Government has recently highlighted, the growing prevalence of dementia alone presents a significant challenge in terms of the volume and type of health and social care that is required for the future. The Accounts Commission has recently projected that the number of people in Scotland needing home care will increase by 33% by 2030 and the number of long stay care home residents will increase by 35% [9] .

In December 2017, in negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, the UK Government reached an agreement with the European Union on the rights of EU citizens living in the UK. Under this agreement (which is contingent on a final deal being agreed by the UK and the EU by October 2018), people who, by 31 December 2020, have been continuously and lawfully living in the UK for five years will be able to apply to stay indefinitely by getting ‘settled status’. People who arrive by 31 December 2020, but won’t have been living here lawfully for five years when the UK leaves the EU, will be able to apply to stay until they have reached the 5-year threshold; at which point they too can apply for settled status.

Whether or not the agreement will provide reassurance to the non- UK EU nationals concerned remains to be seen. In the interim, the Nursing and Midwifery Council ( NMC) has published figures showing a significant (29%) increase in the number of EU nurses and midwives leaving the sector. The NMC surveyed 3,496 people who left between June and November 2017 to find out their reasons for leaving. EU nurses and midwives cited leaving the UK and Brexit as their top reasons, while UK registrants cited retirement, staffing levels and changes to personal circumstances. [10] In terms of the social care sector, scenario-based modelling by the charity Independent Age has suggested that, even in the event of a softer Brexit and the sector remaining attractive to EU workers, the Government’s commitment to reduce levels of net migration could leave the care sector in England with a workforce gap of more than 750,000 people by 2037 [11] .

In light of such evidence and potential associated challenges, the Scottish Government commissioned Ipsos MORI to conduct research aimed at providing an assessment of the contribution of non- UK EU27 workers in the social care sector in Scotland, and the extent to which it had become easier or more difficult to recruit and retain these workers over the course of the last year.

Research objectives

The specific objectives of the research were two-fold; namely, to:

3) provide robust estimates of the number of non- UK EU workers in specified care sub-sectors (adult day care, care at home, day care of children, childminding, housing support, and nurse agencies).

4) provide insights into the specific roles and contributions of those workers from the perspective of both employers and non- UK EU workers.

Structure of the report

The next chapter of the report sets out the methodology adopted for the research, and provides guidance on interpreting the data. Chapter 3 addresses the first objective, above, providing robust estimates of the number of non- EU workers in specified care sub-sectors. Chapters 4 and 5 address the second objective, drawing on the quantitative and qualitative research respectively. Chapter 6 sets out key conclusions emerging from the research.


Ipsos MORI would like to thank the care service managers and members of staff who took part in the survey and/or a qualitative interview.

We would also like to thank Sasha Maguire and Sarah Gledhill at the Scottish Government; Mike Docherty and James Arnold of the Scottish Social Services Council and Ingrid Gilray of the Care Inspectorate, for their input into the research design.


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