EU nationals in Scotland play vital roles in many sectors such as care homes, where 68 per cent of nurses come from the European Economic Area, writes Steve Cardownie.
As we approach January 31 and our departure from the European Union, it is worth reflecting on what effects immigration has had on Scotland and what the future may hold.
As we now know, EU citizens who have been in the UK for five years by December 31, 2020, will be able to apply for settled status, which means that they will be free to continue working in the UK, but people who have not lived in the UK for that qualifying period must apply for pre-settled status. Let’s look at some statistics.
According to some official reports, there are approximately 393,000 people living in Scotland who were born outside the UK, comprising 7.4 per cent of the total population.
A Scottish Parliament paper titled EU Nationals Living in Scotland, published in 2016, stated that there were an estimated 181,000 EU nationals here, making up 3.4 per cent of the population, with 80 per cent of them being of working age, compared to 65 per cent of the Scottish population as a whole.
The health and social work sector employs 12,000 EU nationals and 20 per cent of EU nationals working in Scotland are managers, directors, senior officials or in other professional occupations, with around 31 per cent in unskilled occupations.
Although they are more likely than UK nationals to hold degree level qualifications, around 25 per cent of EU nationals with degree-level qualifications are working in unskilled occupations, compared to only three per cent across the working age population in Scotland as a whole.
Figures from the Annual Population Survey covering 2016 indicate that the employment rate for EU nationals was 76.8 per cent, higher than the overall rate for Scotland of 73 per cent, with the unemployment rate for EU immigrants coming in at 3.8 per cent compared to 4.8 per cent for Scotland as a whole.
All the above figures should demonstrate that immigration plays a very important role in Scotland and that immigrants make a positive contribution to Scottish society, to say nothing of their economic impact.
Take health and social care, for instance, where the problems of recruitment and retention have been well documented. I have witnessed first-hand the contribution that EU nationals make in care homes, filling staff vacancies that would otherwise remain unfilled, with the inevitable consequences that would have on the quality of care afforded to those who need health care most.
Dr Donald Macaskill, chief executive of Scottish Care, told a Scottish Parliamentary Committee that in care homes about 68 per cent of nurses came from the European Economic Area.
Shirley Rogers, director of health workforce and strategic change in the Scottish Government, told the same committee about the challenges of recruiting and retaining Scotland’s health workforce, and the need to continue welcoming workers from the EU.
She said: “400,000 people across Scotland, through the NHS, local government, or private care providers, work in health and social care. That is a fairly whopping proportion of the working population of Scotland. Broadly, 1.5 out of every ten kids at school at the moment have to be interested in health and social care in order for us to be sustainable at current levels.”
There will be serious consequences if, as a result of Brexit, fewer people want to come and settle here or a significant number who are already here choose to leave, not just in the health and care sector but throughout the Scottish labour market.
We have all heard the same old stories trotted out by the usual suspects about how immigrants are bad for Scotland, how they are a lazy shiftless bunch intent on bleeding the welfare state with scant regard to the facts or a blatant disregard of them in order to fuel their anti-foreigner agenda.
But if Big Ben does chime to signal the UK’s departure on January 31, it will not be chiming for me, nor my 96-year-old mother who relies on foreign nursing home staff to care for her – not that Boris Johnson or his privileged cohorts will give a damn about that.