On Wednesday 13 February, New Europeans together with The Federal Trust for Education & Research organised an event on the social and economic impact of Brexit.
A range of issues were covered by the two panels and the audience, including the potential for future skills gaps, the Brexit brain drain, what freedom of movement has done for Britain and the impact Brexit is having on health & social care.
The conference began with a presentation by Prof. Dimitris Ballas, from the University of Gröningen, who gave a unique insight into the economic and social landscape of Europe.
Brendan Donnelly, Director of the Federal Trust then chaired the first panel on the economic impact of Brexit.
Dr Heather Rolfe, Associate Research Director for Employment and Social Policy at the National Institute for Economic and Social Research gave the first presentation. She explained the significant pressure on the UK’s visa system as employers find it harder to recruit staff from within the EU.
Sue Ferns, Deputy General Secretary of Prospect, and Tim Thomas, Director of Employment and Skills a EEF, provided insights into the impact Brexit is already having upon the private sector. Both expressed concern at the lack of clarity from the Government about it will ensure businesses will be able to access the skilled labour they need post Brexit.
Lennard van Otterloo, Brexit Columnist in the Dutch entrepreneur’s magazine de Ondernemer, mirrored the concerns raised by the previous speakers, but also provided crucial insights into the impact Brexit might have on start-ups and smaller companies.
One positive note to emerge, however, was the observation that there has never been a time when more British people have talked or known more about the EU . Brexit has triggered a strong pro-European movement in the Uk, perhaps for the first time.
The second panel was chaired by Jackie Minor, Former Head of the UK Representation of the European Commission.
We heard from Professor Louise Ryan, Co-Director of the Migration Research Group at the University of Sheffield.
She reminded us that far from the 3.6 million EU citizens who live in the UK simply being statistics they are in fact real people. They are our neighbours, our colleagues and friends and many are families with with children.
Yet, what we appear to see in the news bulletins is that EU citizens are just that - a statistic.
Through her research Professor Ryan has found that despite lingering resentment about their treatment, many of the 3 million EU citizens will decide whether or not they leave the United Kingdom, should Brexit go ahead, based on how embedded they feel within UK society. More often than not, the age of their children, their job security as well as their housing situation will be factors in such a decision.
We then heard from Dr Majella Kilkey, Reader in Sociology at the University of Sheffield, who gave us a fascinating insight into the interconnected nature of social care, labour supply, the prospects for EU migration to the UK post-Brexit and whether or not there had been a “Brexodus” since June 2016.
Central to both Prof. Ryan and Dr Kilkey’s remarks was the idea that we should not necessarily fall into the trap of imagining EU citizens as ‘super-mobile’ individuals who move when situations change. Rather, and as with British citizens, the ability and willingness to move will be highly differentiated.
This fact alone is likely to have a significant impact on the social care sector, which employs a high number of EU and other migrants. EU27 member states may look much more attractive than the UK in the future for ‘low skilled’ labour, both within and outwith the social care sector.
Adding to this mix, Dr Michaela Benson, Reader in Sociology at Goldsmiths University, gave insights into the impact that Brexit has already had and will continue to have on UK citizens who have made their lives in the European Union.
Freedom of Movement has benefited the UK, in the Social Care Sector and others, and also by allowing people to retire where they want across the EU28 while retaining the rights they had to a pension and healthcare.
The answer to the question “What has freedom of movement ever done for the UK” was shown to be much more than many may wish to acknowledge. If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, UK citizens living in EU 27 member states might lose access to healthcare, their pensions, as well as their freedom of movement rights within the EU.
The UK population within the EU is as diverse as that of EU27 citizens in the UK. This was something built on by our next speaker Joan Pons Laplana, Clinical Fellow at NHS Digital.
Joan gave a detailed account of what it had been like to move from Spain to the UK, become a nurse and then work his way through the NHS’s various structures.
Initially he had felt welcomed and wanted within the NHS thanks to his expertise.
But, following the June 2016 Referendum things began to change - not least the significant impact that cuts had had upon the service.
Far from being welcomed, Joan set out problems he had faced and there were audible gasps from around the room when he said: “I came to England because I felt welcomed, I can no longer say that - and Brexit is partly to blame!”
From workers to retirees, from nurses to social care workers freedom of movement has allowed us new economic and social experiences. By removing that right our sense of security is destabilised.