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Government must act now to keep EU care staff coming to work in the UK

Published on 24 January 2019 12:48 PM

Country in no position to do without willing EU care workers - with London, the South and live in care' especially reliant on them

The already fragile social care workforce will receive a further body blow under any Brexit scenario and older people in the South could be especially badly hit, the charity Age UK warns. But it is not too late to change this: Age UK is asking the Government to put measures in place now to allow EU nationals to continue to come to the UK to work as paid care staff, whatever happens with 'Brexit'.

With around 110,000 job vacancies in care in England, more than 3 in 10 staff leaving each year, and 104,000 care jobs (1) and rising held by EU nationals, the Charity is calling on the Government to take action so that older people and their families can still be confident of getting the care they rely on in future.

Age UK is arguing that care workers should not be covered by the new rule recommended by the Government's Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) that 'low skilled EU workers' should no longer have preferential access to the UK labour market after a UK withdrawal from the EU. The Charity says that care workers are low paid, not low skilled. In addition, the Charity fears that care is in no fit state to withstand the systemic shock that such a move would represent. EU nationals who work in social care are concentrated in particular areas of the country, with the highest proportion in London where 1 in 7(2) are from the EU and significant numbers also to be found in the South West and South East, the Home Counties, Midlands and Manchester.

'Live in care' is growing in popularity in the UK because most older people would like to stay in their own homes for as long as possible, and significant numbers of live in carers are from the EU, as well as from other countries further afield. The Charity has raised concerns over the impact of Brexit on live in carers who travel in and out of the country on a regular basis from other parts of the EU, rotating with one or more others. Any disruption to travel after a disorderly UK withdrawal would hit such arrangements very hard, causing big and immediate problems for older people. But more broadly, in the longer term, if care workers based in the EU are no longer able to work as live in carers in the UK live in care companies will find it hard to meet rising demand, the Charity fears.

The Charity has written to the Home Secretary about these concerns, urging the Government to exempt care workers from the new rules that will otherwise exclude EU nationals from coming here to work. It has not yet received a reply. The Charity notes however that the Government has already made a partial exemption from the same rules for fruit pickers.

Recent research (1) shows that 130,000 (3) new workers are needed each year just for the social care workforce to stand still. Meanwhile, the numbers of 65+s in England are projected to increase from 10 million in 2017 to 14.5 million in 2035, a rise of 44%. Around 650,000 extra jobs will be needed in adult care by 2035 (4) to match this increased demand. Furthermore, the average age of the adult care workforce is 43 years old, with 320,000 workers aged over 55 (5) Significant numbers of care staff are therefore likely to retire in the next decade, making a situation that is already difficult even worse. These numbers demonstrate just how fragile the social care workforce has become - it is in no position to withstand the loss of good, willing care workers, from wherever they may come.

According to the Government's 'EU Settlement Scheme: statement of intent' the rights of EU citizens living in the UK will not change until after 31st December 2020. However, anecdotal reports from care companies suggest that some EU nationals are already going home because they no longer feel welcome. In any event, whether EU nationals already in the UK decide to stay or not, turning off the supply of EU care workers in future is potentially a much bigger threat.

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 home grown 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."

Notes to editors:

Age UK is a national charity that works with a network of partners, including Age Scotland, Age Cymru, Age NI and local Age UKs across England, to help everyone make the most of later life, whatever their circumstances.

In the UK, the Charity helps more than seven million older people each year by providing advice and support.  It also researches and campaigns on the issues that matter most to older people. Its work focuses on ensuring that older people: have enough money; enjoy life and feel well; receive high quality health and care; are comfortable, safe and secure at home; and feel valued and able to participate.

Age UK’s subsidiary charity, Age International, supports older people globally in over 30 developing countries by funding programmes such as vital emergency relief and healthcare and campaigning to raise awareness and change policies.

Age UK is a charitable company limited by guarantee and registered in England (registered charity number 1128267 and registered company number 6825798). Charitable services are provided through Age UK and commercial products are offered by the Charity’s Community Interest Company (CiC) (registered company number 1102972) which donates its net profits to Age UK (the Charity)


1-5. The State of the Adult Social Care Workforce and Sector in England, Skills for Care, September 2018. Read more

6. There were 132,000 fewer EU citizens working in the UK in July-Sept 2018 than the year before a year before. Read more  

7. A fifth of all workers (320,000 jobs) were aged over 55 years old. Read more

8. There are an estimated 1.4m people who work in the care industry. Read more

9. Bill is 90 years old and needs round the clock care for which he would be happy to pay for but there are not the care workers available. Video Link

Age UK

We work with our national partners, Age Scotland, Age Cymru and Age NI and our local Age UK partners in England (together the Age UK Family). We also work internationally for people in later life as a member of the DEC and with our sister charity Help Age International.

Age UK believes that everyone should have the opportunity to make the most of later life, whatever their circumstances. We provide free information, advice and support to over six million people; commercial products and services to over one million customers; and research and campaign on the issues that matter to people in later life. Our work focuses on five key areas: money matters, health and well-being, home and care, work and training and leisure and lifestyle.

Age UK is a charitable company limited by guarantee and registered in England (registered charity number 1128267 and company number 6825798). Age Concern England and Help the Aged (both registered charities), and their trading and other associated companies merged on the 1st April 2009. Together they have formed the Age UK Group ("we"). Charitable services are offered through Age UK and commercial products are offered by the Charity's trading companies, which donate their net profits to Age UK (the Charity).

For more information

Contact the Age UK Media team on 020 3033 1430 during office hours (Mon-Fri 08:30-17:30) or for out-of-hours media support please email 

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Last updated: Feb 05 2024

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