If the government gets the workforce solution on the road to Brexit wrong and there are shortfalls in health and social care recruitment from EU countries, serious action such as increasing pay levels to make jobs in the sector more desirable to UK workers and increasing immigration from other countries would have to be taken. By Rob Whiteman
Since the EU referendum was announced, there has been no shortage of Parliamentary spats and government infighting. Meaning Brexit has been one of the most contentious and acrimonious moments in modern British politics.
One of the most divisive issues has been over what migration deal the UK ought to strike with the EU, as both the country and the Cabinet have been unable to settle on what rights EU citizens ought to have to work and live in the UK.
The government has tried, through the “road to Brexit speeches”, to bring people from both sides of debate together by promising to end freedom of movement whilst vaguely committing to labour mobility. But, despite these efforts, the exact arrangement the UK is seeking still remains unclear and opinions continue to be divided.
The new deal
Finding the right workforce solution must be a priority of the government. And the needs of the health and social care services should be a significant area of concern in particular, given the reliance the sector has on EU skills and labour.
Over the past two years, a substantial amount of data has been released that demonstrates the critical contribution both highly skilled and lower skilled EU workers make to the health and social care sector. Indeed, research from Skills for Care show that 7 per cent of the social care workforce are from the EU, and according to the House of Commons Library that figure is around 6 per cent for the NHS workforce.
These are chunky numbers, and given that the sector is struggling to both recruit and retain staff, it is vital that any new workforce deal doesn’t prevent organisations from recruiting the talent they need.
Research from Skills for Care show that 7 per cent of the social care workforce are from the EU
In a new report, CIPFA’s Brexit Advisory Commission has examined the different EU workforce settlement options, which the Institute of Public Policy Research claims are available to the UK, to understand what deal would allow the health and social care sector to recruit the right mix of staff. The results are alarming.
The report found that that only one of the options, a bespoke deal, would allow health and social care organisations to recruit top end talent, eg doctors, and lower skilled, but highly valued, staff, such as care workers. This is because a bespoke deal could allow the UK to create sector based quotas for lower skilled jobs and reciprocal free movement for those defined as skilled workers.
As well as this, it could make it possible for parts of the country that are dependent on particular types of workers to recruit from the EU by introducing regional variations in immigration policy. This could be greatly beneficial to London and the South East, areas that have a greater reliance on EU social workers and NHS staff in comparison to other parts of the UK.
Surprisingly, policing a regional element to the visa system wouldn’t be as cumbersome and bureaucratic as expected. Indeed, the Migration Observatory has argued that it would be of little difference to the current scheme for Tier 2 visas. This means that it would be in fact an easier system to control rather than a points-based system, for example.
If the wrong deal is struck and there are shortfalls in health and social care recruitment from EU countries, British workers will unlikely be able to pick up the slack. And so serious action would have to be taken to ensure workforce sustainability, such as increasing pay levels to make jobs in the sector more desirable to UK workers and increasing immigration from countries outside of the EU. The cost of the former would be substantial, as around 40 per cent of the £126bn NHS budget is spent on staff.
Because of the negative implications a bad deal would have on health and social care services, as well as other public service organisations, it is crucial that the government comes together and gets this right. Otherwise, it’ll be the communities who suffer the consequences.