Brexit Fall Out - Presentation by Dr Majella Kilkey

On the 13th February 2019, Dr Majella Kilkey and Professor Louise Ryan were invited panellists at a public event, Brexit fall out – the citizen’s perspective – The economic and social impact of Brexit on citizens.

This was organised by New Europeans and The Federal Trust, and held at Europe House in London.

Majella and Louise’s panel focused on The social impact of Brexit, and they were joined by Jackie Minor, Former Head, UK Representation of the European Commission, Dr Michaela Benson, Goldsmiths, University of London and Joan Pons Laplana, Clincial Fellow, NHS Digital. The panel was asked to address the following questions:

Who is leaving the UK, why are they leaving and what challenges do they face?

What has freedom of movement ever done to help the British?

How will the health and social care sector be impacted by Brexit?

Drawing on on-going research as part of the ESRC-funded Sustainable Care Programme, Majella reflected on the implications of Brexit for labour supply in the social care sector, particularly in the context of current migration trends and the UK government’s proposals for the overhaul of its migration system following Brexit.


Based on the latest migration data, it appears that Brexit is having an impact on the migration patterns of EU citizens.

In the year between June 2017 and June 2018, while net migration remained positive for EU citizens as a whole (+74,000), for EU8 citizens, it was negative (-14,000).

Outflows of all groups of EU citizens increased in that time period: EU15 +5%; EU8 +38%; EU2 +24%. And, inflows were down too: EU15 -3%; EU8 -13%; EU2 -4%.

Despite this picture, as Kilkey and Ryan have argued before, we should be cautious in our talk of a ‘Brexodus’.

"We should not fall into a trap of constructing EU citizens as ‘supermobile’ individuals who simply move on when circumstances change, albeit dramatically so." 

The ability and willingness to move back home or on to another EU country, will be highly differentiated.

It will depend on factors such as how settled people feel in the UK, which in turn will be related to how long they’ve been here, whether their children and other family members are here and if they own their own home in the UK.

Unfortunately, the data are simply not fine-grained enough to tell us much about precisely who is leaving and who is staying.    

Prospects for EU migration to the UK after Brexit

While we are not facing a ‘Brexodus’ among EU citizens currently living in the UK, future migration from the EU will be transformed if the Government’s proposals for its post-Brexit migration regime are enacted.

These are set out in the White Paper – “The UK’s future skills-based immigration system” – launched on 19th December 2018.

Under the Government’s proposals, free movement will end from 1st January 2021, and a single route will be introduced for ‘skilled workers’ from all countries of the world.

If there is a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, there will be no Implementation Period and any new rules might enter into force sooner.

The emphasis on skilled migration in the Government’s proposals is not surprising given the government’s longstanding commitment to select the ‘brightest and the best’.

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) Report, which directly informed the White Paper, had also emphasised the economic benefits of skilled migration from EEA countries.

The MAC Report and the White Paper equate ‘skill’ with earnings, and the proposal is to retain the current £30,000 earnings threshold to qualify for the skilled route.

As Ryan and Kilkey pointed out, despite the absence of conclusive evidence on the impact of ‘low-skilled’ EEA migration, the MAC report was disinclined to propose anything other than a ‘skilled route’ (except for continuation of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme), despite acknowledging that this would pose challenges for some sectors, including social care.

The White Paper acknowledges the challenge for social care (and other sectors such as construction).

The average full-time equivalent annual pay of the direct care workforce (including senior care workers) employed by independent providers (where most migrants work) is £15,900 – well below the earnings threshold.

The Government is proposing, therefore, a transitional measure, lasting until 2025.

This will not be open to citizens of all countries; only countries deemed to be ‘low risk’ and countries the government does mobility deals with.

The measure is for a time-limited route for temporary short-term workers – 12 months in and 12 months ‘cooling off’ - to prevent ‘permanent working in the UK’.

Workers will have:

  • No rights to public funds
  • No rights to bring dependants
  • No right to switch between visas
  • No route to permanent settlement

And, they will have to pay a visa fee for the privilege.

Prospects for Social Care Labour Supply after Brexit

The proposals outlined above clearly threaten workforce supply for the social care sector.

The social care workforce employs an estimated 2 million workers in the UK.

Among these, migrants constitute a significant minority with an average of 20%, increasing to almost 50% in London and major cities.

While most non-UK born paid care workers have traditionally arrived from outside the EU (particularly India and the Philippines), since 2004 there has been a steady rise in the numbers coming from within the EU (particularly Poland and Romania), such that EU migrants now account for the overwhelming share of new entrants to the care workforce.

European citizens have become a vital resource for the UK social care sector because poor conditions and pay make it difficult to recruit and retain UK staff, especially in the context of the almost full employment scenario we currently have.

Employers across the board state that their main reason for employing migrant workers is to plug labour market shortages.

While some are looking to bring currently under-represented groups into the labour force, this will not be sufficient to fill gaps.

The supply of migrant care workers is at risk under the proposed new temporary migration route for the ‘low skilled’.

Social care is a growing sector throughout the EU in the context of population ageing, and while poor pay and conditions are prevalent elsewhere, other European countries are likely to look more attractive after Brexit because of the socio-legal rights offered by European free movement provisions.   




Dr Majella Kilkey, Reader in Social Policy and Co-Director of the Migration Research Group, University of Sheffield

February 2019


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