Indeed I do. Research by Global Future, for example, points starkly to the gap in the social care workforce today, the growth of that gap as a consequence of demographic change, and the potential implications of the proposals in the Government’s White Paper. I will say a little more about that in a moment, and colleagues may wish to expand on it, too.
In respect of personal assistants, if we assume that the percentage of that workforce mirrors that of the social care workforce as a whole, we could assume that perhaps 7,000 to 10,000 are non-UK nationals, including European economic area nationals. That covers only personal assistants employed to provide social care; I have no information on the breakdown by nationality of personal assistants employed by holders of personal health budgets. However, there are a total of 42,000 personal assistants employed by holders of personal health budgets, which might suggest, if the proportion of non-UK nationals is similar to that in social care, a further 3,000 to 4,000 people.
My amendment seeks to address the concern about the ongoing ability of disabled people to recruit this important workforce after Brexit if the proposals in the Minister’s White Paper, particularly those relating to the salary threshold, came into effect. Wherever personal assistants are employed, they are a vital resource for disabled people, whose lives would be very difficult without them—especially, for example, those who live in isolated rural communities where it is difficult to get end-to-end social care.
Many—perhaps the vast majority or even all—of these personal assistants earn way less than £30,000 per year. Typically, many will earn only half that. As I have said, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen pointed out, the sector as a whole already faces severe pressure. Skills for Care says there are approximately 110,000 unfilled vacancies in the sector at any one time. Global Future’s research points to growing pressures as a result of a changing demographic, which, combined with the provisions of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, this Bill and the proposals in the White Paper, could lead to a shortfall in the workforce of perhaps 400,000 by 2026, including a shortfall in the number of personal assistants. At the present rate of recruitment it would take us 20 years to make up that gap.
This workforce was considered in detail by the Migration Advisory Committee in the report it published last year. While acknowledging the shortfall, the MAC suggested that it could be made up in a number of different ways were access not available to EEA nationals to fill vacancies in the labour force—for example, by persuading former care workers to come back into the sector or by improving retention rates.
However, MAC also says that if the fundamental problem of recruitment and retention in the sector relates to pay and conditions, the only way we can use alternatives to recruiting non-UK nationals—indeed, even if we are recruiting EEA nationals—lies in improving pay and conditions across the sector, which will require substantial funding from the Government. In any event, it would take an heroic effort by the Government and the sector to fill that workforce gap without access to EEA nationals, not least as this demographic time bomb is ticking right here, right now.
For disabled people who employ personal assistants, this could be disastrous. They need committed, skilled carers. They need continuity of care; they cannot afford to have people coming in and out of the workforce. They need certainty and reliability. Therefore, there are real concerns that, if a skills threshold were imposed or, most importantly for this amendment, if a salary threshold of £30,000 applied, they might be forced to look to fill vacancies using people on short-term work visas who would not have the skills or be able to provide the continuity of care.
Governments of all colours have long supported the concept of personal budgets as a facilitative means to support independent living for disabled people. It would be a crying shame if the ambitions that the Government set out in their White Paper and the provisions of this Bill worked against that aim. I hope the Minister will, in the course of our debate, be able to offer some words of reassurance to personal assistants and, most importantly, to the disabled people who employ them.