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1.6 million new care workers needed by 2022

Report highlights threat that Brexit poses to social care workforce

Ingrid Torjesen

Thursday, 09 February 2017

Training and working standards in the care sector need to be improved if the UK is to attract sufficient home-grown workers to avoid labour shortages in the sector post-Brexit, a new analysis from the Institute for Public Policy Research has warned.

Around 55,000 of social care workers are EU migrants and with uncertainty about the future of freedom of movement, the flow of EU migrant workers could provide a less reliable source of labour post-Brexit, the report warns. It estimates that the UK will need to recruit 1.6 million low-skills health and social care workers, two-thirds of the current workforce up to 2022, larger than any other occupation in the UK.

The level of quality and training of care workers in the UK is significantly lower when compared to similar economies and poor workforce conditions mean that the sector struggles to recruit, train and retain workers with the skills to deliver high standards of care. As a result there are rising levels of user dissatisfaction and abuse alerts.

To push up quality, the report says, extra investment is needed alongside minimum standards for training and qualifications; better conditions for workers, enforced through a stronger Care Quality Commission in partnership with HM Revenue and Customs; and an industrial strategy for care with a new focus on innovation, including stimulating the potential of new technology to drive productivity improvements.

Clare McNeil, IPPR associate director for families and work, said: "Social care services will need to change drastically in order to deal with the growing demand for adult care services due to our ageing population and a post-Brexit migration system.

"These challenges cannot be addressed without a sustainable funding solution for social care, for example by raising National Insurance (NI) contributions for employees and employers by 1 per cent. Persistent underfunding in the adult social care sector has led to a reliance on a low-paid, often poorly trained workforce, with care workers some of the lowest paid workers in the country."

"The sector will have a huge challenge on its hands to recruit enough workers to keep pace with demand, particularly with expected lower levels of migration. We are calling for a radical change in workforce strategy - both to improve working conditions to attract more workers and to raise standards in the sector."

Rehana Azam, GMB National Secretary for Public Services, said: "Our social care system is already teetering on the brink of collapse - and post Brexit there is the potential for it to topple over altogether. We desperately need well-trained, highly motivated care workers to help take care of our ageing population. If we lose tens of thousands of existing workers after leaving the EU the situation will become critical.

"Instead of holding hands with Donald Trump and refusing to publish details of her proposed Brexit plan, Theresa May must make a cast iron pledge to give our social care sector the financial backing it urgently needs - whatever happens after leaving the European union."

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