Ending freedom of movement after Brexit could mean more than 100,000 fewer adult social care workers by 2026, a think tank has warned.
Global Future said it would mean a 26% increase in the ratio of over-75s to care workers.
Its new report, 100,000 carers missing: how ending free movement could spell disaster for elderly and disabled people, says 222,000 social care staff in England – 17% of the total – are from overseas.
Since 2012, the number of care workers from outside the EU has fallen as a result of strict controls on low-skilled non-EU workers, but the number from inside the EU has risen, leaving the total number of foreigners working in the sector roughly constant.
Meanwhile, there are 90,000 unfilled social care vacancies and a vacancy rate of 6.6% compared to the labour market average of 2.5%, and the sector is adding just a net 18,000 additional British workers a year.
Global Future Director Peter Starkings said: 'Ending free movement after Brexit would cause a social care workforce crisis.
'Social care is already overstretched, and cutting the number of care staff by 100,000 would have a direct impact on the quality of life of elderly and disabled people.
'Low-skilled workers from the EU are an easy target for politicians, but we rely on them to do vital jobs supporting our elderly and disabled loved ones in care homes and in the community.
'Without them our social care system would quite simply be unable to function.'