Edinburgh Napier is contributing to the work – an attempt to counter rash decisions that could see thousands of over-65s in particular arriving back in the UK without property or pensions.
A sudden reverse migration could increase pressures on the UK’s overstretched health and social care services at a time when key workers in these sectors may themselves be returning to EU homelands as a result of Brexit-related insecurities.
Researchers say fears over future rights held by UK citizens who have settled on the continent – about everything from possible legal status and rights to work to access to welfare, healthcare and pensions – could be exacerbated by misinformation.
They believe there is an urgent need to create a ‘one stop shop’ for trustworthy information channels that cover the various types of UK migrants in the EU; from students and young families in the cities to retirees on Mediterranean coastlines.
The Cambridge University-led research, funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), will take place over the next six weeks with input from Edinburgh Napier Business School’s Professor Maura Sheehan.
The final product will be shared widely with trusted parties such as government agencies, legal charities and citizen advice bureaus, but will not be fully released into the public domain for fear of exploitation by commercial and lobby organisations.
Lead researcher Dr Brendan Burchell, from Cambridge’s Department of Sociology, said: “UK citizens abroad need to be empowered to make sound, informed decisions during Brexit negotiations on whether to remain in their adopted homelands or return to the UK.”
Last year, the BBC’s ‘Reality Check’ site reported that there are around 1.2 million UK-born people living in EU nations. Over 300,000 of those live in Spain, of which one-third receive a UK state pension.
Dr Burchell said: “Without access to well-grounded information that updates throughout the Brexit process, the current void will be increasingly filled with dangerous speculation.”
Edinburgh Napier’s Professor Sheehan said: “If panic is sparked it could lead to a domino effect in certain expatriate communities. Housing markets in areas along the Mediterranean coast could collapse as retirees try to sell up, but with no new UK expats looking to buy. Life savings could get swept away in the confusion.
“Meanwhile, there is no slack in UK social infrastructure for ageing expats returning en masse with expectations of support. The NHS has yet to emerge from its current crisis, there is a desperate shortage of housing, and social care is badly underfunded.
“The idea that we could see baby-boomer expats back in the UK with health conditions, financial woes and even ending in destitution as a result of bad decisions based on misinformation should not simply be written off as so-called ‘remoaner’ hysteria.”