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.

6. Conclusions

The estimate of the percentage of non- UK nationals employed within adult social care and childcare in Scotland emerging from this study is in line with that recorded in some previous research, at 5.6%. This aggregate result conceals some notable sub-sectoral variation, however; in particular, the higher prevalence of non- UK EU nationals in nurse agencies (16.5%) (as well as specifically for nurses and for those in auxiliary and care roles).

These results take on added significance in the context of the survey finding that over half of managers who had tried to recruit NMC registered nurses, and around two in five who had tried to recruit care staff or practitioners over the last 12 months had found this more difficult that previously. In other words, any future impact of Brexit on EU nationals’ ability or propensity to remain in the UK would have the potential to exacerbate an already challenging situation for the sector.

While the survey suggested that retention was presenting somewhat less of a challenge than recruitment in the sector, it was nonetheless notable that just over a quarter (25.7%) of respondents reported increased difficulty retaining care staff or practitioners – another of the groups among whom non- UK EU nationals are relatively prevalent – with the problem again appearing most acute in the private sector. Findings from the qualitative research suggest that a possible explanation for this could be wage competition from local authority providers.

The picture in respect of the recruitment and retention of non- UK EU staff specifically was uniformly more positive. Majorities of managers reported no change in the number of applications they had received from non- UK EU workers for any type of post in the last 12 months. More still reported no change in the ease with which they had been able to retain non- UK EU workers. And while respondents did report non- UK EU workers having left their service in the last 12 months, Brexit-related concerns appeared to be a factor in only a small number of these cases.

The qualitative research reinforced the survey findings that Brexit appeared to have had a limited impact on the sector to date. However, the work did highlight concerns that Brexit could prove more of a challenge in the future, with both managers and workers of the view that little had yet been decided, and unsure of how, if at all, the status of non- UK EU workers might be affected. These findings suggest a clear need for both audiences to be provided with greater information about the UK Government’s and European Commission’s agreement on the matter, including in relation to the options of citizenship and settled status, such that they might begin planning for the future accordingly.

Beyond this issue, the qualitative research participants identified other ways in which the sector might best be supported to meet current, and potential future, recruitment- and retention-related challenges. These included:

  • campaign work to raise the profile and reputation of the care sector, such that more people are encouraged to consider it as a career pathway, with messaging focusing on:
    • the importance and skilled nature of the work
    • the rewarding and enjoyable nature of the work
    • the provision of training and the opportunity to learn new skills
    • the flexible hours available in many types of service
  • higher pay for workers at all levels, but particularly ‘frontline’ staff – both as a means of recognising the difficult and important jobs they do, and to further improve perceptions of the sector as a viable career choice.

In addition to these suggestions made by participants themselves, the qualitative research pointed to an evident need for:

  • more guidance for services on effective recruitment strategies to ensure higher quality applicants and thereby reduce the burden of the process
  • the sharing of best practice in respect of training and development, and other strategies to promote retention – of which there was clearly a great deal


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