A blog entry by Sustainable Care Research Associate, Dr Magdolna Lőrinc
On the 31st of October 2019, the UK was meant to leave the European Union. However, in a new chapter in the Brexit saga, the European Union has agreed to a new extension until the 31st of January 2020, requested by Prime Minister Boris Johnson after he failed to get parliamentary approval for the revised Withdrawal Agreement. Potentially, the UK could leave the EU earlier if the Brexit deal is approved by Parliament before the new deadline. This seems unlikely though, as the country heads for a General Election on the 12th of December, the outcome of which is difficult to foresee. The likelihood and terms of Brexit will depend on the election results, as the main political parties are offering different strategies to deal with the Brexit deadlock. It seems that all options are still on the table; leaving the EU with the existing deal; renegotiating the Withdrawal Agreement; having a second referendum; cancelling Brexit; and crashing out of the EU with no deal on the 31st January 2020.
Thus, after three years of busy and turbulent Brexit negotiations with endless new developments, the millions of people affected by Brexit still face the same uncertainties. Regardless of the specific Brexit scenario – with or without a deal – the implications for social care are manifold, severe and mostly unaddressed. While a no-deal Brexit poses the most serious risks, even the ‘soft Brexit’ option leaves the social care sector exposed.
As highlighted by Age UK, Brexit may exacerbate the social care workforce crisis. Currently 104,000 EU nationals work in social care in the UK, mostly in London and the south of England. In the context of a growing older population and serious staffing shortages in the social care sector (which has about 110,000 unfilled care jobs), the country can ill afford any reduction in the numbers of existing or potentially new care workers. The post-Brexit immigration system proposed by Theresa May’s government would prioritise so-called ‘skilled migration’. However, the minimum salary threshold (£30,000) for skilled migrants to come to the UK on a five year visa would exclude the majority of social care workers (and raises the question of whether ‘low skilled’ and ‘low paid’ are the same thing). Instead, potential workers in social care from other parts of the EU would be defined as ‘low skilled’ and be eligible for only 12-month visas. Such short-term arrangements will have detrimental effects on the quality of care provision and are likely to endanger the future sustainability of the care sector unless further, or different, arrangements are put in place.
The negative effects of Brexit on social care are not restricted to the supply of migrant care workers. Enjoying free movement rights in the EU, about 3.2 million EU citizens from outside the UK made their home here; likewise, some 1.3 million UK-born people reside in other EU countries. Despite assumptions of a ‘Brexodus’ – EU citizens leaving the UK en masse before Brexit, research conducted by Sustainable Care investigators Majella Kilkey and Louise Ryan highlights that decisions about leaving the UK are nuanced and complex. Brexit has been an ‘unsettling force’, but moving back to their country of origin is often not an option for EU nationals already settled in the UK. While many of these millions of Europeans have secured UK citizenship or ‘settled status’ in the UK, they often have caring responsibilities abroad, with parents or grandparents ageing in their home country. As in the UK, most care for older people is provided by family members in other countries too. For instance, in the Polish context, grandparents often help out with taking care of grandchildren, while in return children are expected to care for their ageing parents. Brexit however, may disrupt such familial care arrangements, with grandparents losing the option of travelling freely to the UK to help with bringing up grandchildren or moving here to be cared for by their adult children living and working in the UK.
Despite the number of people involved in transnational caring, their needs to sustainably reconcile paid work with transnational and multi-locational caring responsibilities are rarely recognised in political discourse and have not been addressed during Brexit negotiations. In 2012, the reform of the Adult Dependent Relatives Rule put an end to the route by which elderly parents could come to the UK to be cared for by their adult children living here. After Brexit, the same immigration rules will (likely) apply to EU nationals as to migrants from other parts of the world, with serious implications for transnational carers from EU countries who will need to negotiate the care of their older relatives in a newly hostile environment. Further, many EU nationals living in the UK are now older themselves, sometimes in need of care and support; yet little is known about their care needs, expectations or the support available to them.
On the other side of the coin, British citizens living in other EU countries face similar risks and uncertainties, including post-Brexit transnational care arrangements, with many ‘older Brits’ ageing abroad. More than 200,000 British retirement migrants are living in Spain. Kelly Hall’s research has exposed the challenges of ageing abroad, with increasing, and often unplanned for care needs and dispersed care networks. In addition to their existing difficulties, Brexit has left many Britons living in Spain uncertain of their continued access to welfare services, both locally and if they decide to return to the UK.
Our research on Care ‘In’ and ‘Out of’ Place – one of the Sustainable Care Programme’s eight projects – aims to address many of these issues. We explore how people born outside of the UK experience ageing in this country, and investigate their wellbeing, care needs and available support. Our work aims to fill the gap in knowledge about the often neglected needs and experiences of newer groups in the UK, whose care needs may raise particular challenges for sustainable care and wellbeing, especially in the context of Brexit. We also work with Shereen Hussein and Agnes Turnpenny, in their related Sustainable Care project, to find out more about the experiences of migrant care workers (including those from the EU) in the UK, and how they reconcile paid work with familial care responsibilities, both locally and trans-nationally. In his PhD research, our colleague Obert Tawodzera is exploring the role of new technologies in mediating long-distance aged care between UK-based migrant care workers and their overseas family members. We are also collaborating with Kelly Hall who is researching British retirement migrants in Spain and the impact of Brexit on them. What connects all these groups is the continued uncertainty they face while trapped in the Brexit limbo.
Dr Magdolna Lőrinc
Magda is a Research Associate on the Sustainable Care programme, click the link below to learn more about her work.