Are EU staff leaving the charity sector?

One of the things we noticed when compiling our UK Civil Society Almanac – the authoritative resource on the sector’s finances – was a notable drop in European staff working in the sector.

The number of European staff fell by a dramatic 20% – or 7,800 individuals – between June 2016 and June 2017, even as the sector’s workforce as a whole grew.

The obvious question to ask is whether this was a consequence of the result of the Brexit referendum which took place in June 2016.

The UK voluntary sector workforce overall grew by 4%

In June 2017, the total number of people working in the voluntary sector was 880,000, a 4% increase on the 853,000 in June 2016. And there were 24 million working in the private sector, a 1.3% increase on the previous year. But in contrast to the voluntary sector, in the private sector the number of European staff grew by 10%, from 1.87m to 2.05m.

Social work is a key sub-sector for the voluntary sector workforce

Around a third of the whole voluntary sector workforce fall into what the Labour Force Survey – which we’re relying on for all this data – categorises as ‘social work’.

And when we looked at the numbers, we saw that by far the largest part of the fall in numbers in the European workforce comes from this category, even as the number of people employed in the sub-category overall increased. There was also a large proportionate fall in the ‘human health’ category. The numbers in some other sub-categories dropped, although not as dramatically – and in some also grew.

(By the way, for the purposes of this blog, when we say ‘European’, we mean people from an EU country other than the UK.)

What have we concluded about Europeans leaving the sector?

Unfortunately, the data doesn’t allow us to see where these European staff are going – it could be that they are leaving the country but it could also be that they are moving into the private sector.

Realistically, it’s too soon to say what effect the referendum has had. The chart below shows us that while the number of Europeans in the sector dipped significantly in the last year, it’s also only down to the level it was at two years ago, though recent data shows it is below the trendline.  Nevertheless, we will need longer-term data and likely some qualitative research insight before we can draw definite any conclusions.

Is this a cause for concern? Maybe. We know that with record-low unemployment, many charities are concerned about their ability to recruit staff. Particularly in health and social care roles, which have attracted many staff from Europe previously and where some employers feel they can’t find enough qualified candidates at the moment. NCVO has been pressing this point with the government – charities need to be able to continue to recruit the staff they need to support their beneficiaries. If the numbers continue to fall then concern will increase.


Free event: What does Brexit mean for the UK’s workforce?

In the second in a series of Brexit seminars in collaboration with UK in a Changing Europe, Jonathan Portes, professor of economics and public policy at Kings College London, will explore the potential impact of Brexit on the UK’s immigration policy and what this might mean for employers, followed by a Q&A.

Find out more and book your place


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Marc is NCVO's data scientist. He helps maintain the UK Civil Society Almanac database and works on other data-related projects in the research team.

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