The charity sector could lose more than 25,000 workers if the immigration rules for non-EU nationals are applied to people from the EU after Brexit, a new report has warned.
The Charity Workforce in Post-Brexit Britain, produced by the think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research, says that if workers from the EU were required to meet the same standards as non-EU citizens to secure visas, 82 per cent of those currently working in the sector would be ineligible to remain in the UK.
For charity workers in the social and residential care sector, this figure would be 87 per cent, the report says.
As a result, charities could be forced to pay workers more, Andrew O’Brien, head of policy at the Charity Finance Group, said yesterday at the launch of the report, a meeting in parliament of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration.
The report says there are 31,000 EU nationals in the charity sector, making up about 4 per cent of the total workforce. These are largely concentrated in the social work, residential care, education and membership organisations and tend to be more highly qualified than their UK counterparts.
A survey of 100 charities carried out for the report by CFG found that 62 per cent had no experience of using the visa system to recruit workers from outside the EU.
Marley Morris, research fellow at IPPR and the report’s author, said at the launch that although EU citizens would have their rights protected during the transition period, what happened afterwards was more uncertain.
"We still don’t know what kind of new system of immigration controls might get introduced post-Brexit," he said. "The discussion largely revolves around controls based on skill level and salary, and typically that’s drawing on what the current system for non-EU nationals looks like."
Introducing such a system, Morris said, "would mean quite simply a dramatic impact on the EU workforce in the UK".
The report says that the lack of funds to provide training "leaves the sector particularly exposed to restrictions on freedom of movement".
O’Brien said the sectors historically low pay rates could lead to a nasty surprise when charities were forced to become more competitive as recruiters.
"Those organisations that do have EU workers are not suddenly going to stop operating," he said. "They’re going to take UK workers and bring them into their charities, offering more money to attract them."
Smaller organisations working in the regions would also be affected, even if they did not employ any EU workers, because there would be a "sucking effect" bringing the most desirable candidates to the bigger, London-based organisations, O’Brien said.
"We might have to get used as a sector to paying more and offering more wrap-around benefits as well," he said.
The report calls on the government to move quickly to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK. It says charity employers should support their existing EU staff by paying the any fees required to get new documentation.
If a visa system is introduced, it says, charities should be able to sponsor workers, allowing them to recruit from a much wider pool of staff than the existing non-EU system allows.
It also recommends that the government and charity employers work together to develop a skills and training strategy for the charity sector, including a skills levy, set at 0.5 per cent of the payroll for employers with at least 50 employees and 1 per cent for employers with at least 250 employees.