Charity warns UK in ‘no position’ to exclude EU care workers after Brexit

European care workers must be able to continue to come to the UK to work after Brexit, a leading charity for older people has urged ministers.

Age UK said the social care workforce is already struggling, but warned that shutting the door on workers from the EU would make a “bad situation even worse”.

The charity has written to Home Secretary Sajid Javid to ask him to exempt care workers after it was recommended that low-skilled EU workers should not have preferential access to the UK labour market after Brexit.

It argues that care workers are low paid, rather than low skilled, and that Britain is in “no position” to do without them.

Age UK said it feared that the care system is in “no fit state to withstand the systemic shock that such a move would represent”, and pointed to figures which suggested there are 110,000 job vacancies in care in England.

The charity said that while EU nationals already in the UK may decide to stay after Brexit, the greatest threat came from turning off the supply of care workers from the continent in the future.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “The social care workforce is already struggling but if after a UK withdrawal we shut the door on staff from the EU we’ll make a bad situation even worse.

“Live-in care and social care in London and across the south of England seem especially threatened because EU nationals are concentrated here; there’s no way these people can be quickly or easily replaced, and social care is losing staff as it is.

“Care work is low paid, not low skilled, so it is quite wrong that it is being caught by the new rules proposed by the Migration Advisory Committee. The Government should recognise this and allow EU nationals to continue to come and work as paid carers.

“The Government has granted a partial exemption from the new rules for fruit pickers and Age UK believes it should remove care workers from this proposed post-Brexit regime altogether.

“Does the Government really think that being able to eat homegrown Granny Smiths is more important than ensuring that ‘Grannies and Grandpas’ up and down the country can get the care they need?

“If ministers do not budge on their current plans, this will be the implication. They should do the right thing and allow EU nationals to continue to work in the care sector.”

Shadow social care minister Barbara Keeley said the Government must “rethink this dangerous decision”, adding: “The social care system stands on a cliff edge and this Government’s short-sighted refusal to exempt care staff from new post-Brexit immigration rules could push it over the edge.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “As the Home Secretary has said, EU citizens make a huge contribution to our economy and to our society and we want them to stay.

“The social care sector is vital to the UK and our future immigration system will ensure that we have access to the skills and talents we need after the UK leaves the EU.

“As part of this, we are considering whether a lower salary threshold should apply for some roles in shortage. This is already in place for nurses, paramedics and some teaching and social care roles in short supply.

“The new skills-based immigration system will be implemented from 2021 following an extensive 12-month programme of engagement with businesses and stakeholders, including the social care sector across the UK and the EU and international partners.”

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