What does Brexit mean for social care services?
- By Nick
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- Feb 03, 2020
The UK left the EU at 11pm on 31st January 2020, entering a transition period for the next 11 months. There are uncertainties about what lies ahead for many industries, not least what the impact of Brexit will be on social care services in the UK.
Social care in the UK is already in crisis – services need more funding, more workers and more accessibility for all. Social care is high on the agenda for the Prime Minister’s current government, as well as opposing parties, each offering their own take on how to solve the social care crisis and provide help, funding and support for those who need it the most.
One of the biggest concerns is based around the fact that the workforce in social care has always relied heavily on workers from EU countries. There has already been a decline in the number of people taking roles in the care industry, despite many thousands of positions that need filling. In November 2019, it was reported that EU net migration to the UK was at its lowest level since 2003.
New immigration proposals
A new report by the Migration Advisory Committee looking at a points-based system and salary thresholds for immigration published on 28th January 2020, has done little to dispel concerns over the future of the social care workforce. The points-based system is a possible post Brexit replacement for free movement within the EEA, which was in place pre Brexit during the UK’s EU membership and will continue during the transition period.
The report looks to expand the current Tier 2 visa, which is for skilled migrants from non-EEA countries with a firm job offer, to apply to EEA citizens too. The minimum salary threshold for obtaining this visa would be £25,600 – far higher than the average wage for most workers in the care industry. The Committee suggests that this could lead to a reduction in the social care workforce of 2.9% if implemented, and that this would not be offset by any fall in demand for the care of EEA citizens.
In response, Simon Bottery, senior fellow at The King’s Fund, said: “One in six staff working in adult social care in England have a non-British nationality. These workers are crucial for the viability of social care services, which are struggling to cope with approximately 122,000 vacancies at any one time. By prioritising higher-paid workers, the Migration Advisory Committee recommendations for a points-based visa system would effectively shut the door to thousands of people who are desperately needed to shore up the social care workforce.”
The Migration Advisory Committee, however, says that the pressures facing social care are based on low pay in the industry and a lack of funding and investment into the sector, and not its proposed immigration policy. It’s a fact that Simon Bottery does acknowledge as part of the problem: “… The immediate reality is that the average hourly pay for care workers is below the rate paid in most supermarkets. The Committee’s challenge risks being a triumph of hope over reality unless the government provides an immediate social care funding boost and a comprehensive plan for sustainable staffing, and the Prime Minster delivers on his commitment to ‘fix social care once and for all’.”
Attracting UK care workers post Brexit
One solution to filling these essential care roles is by engaging school leavers to enter the workforce at a young age. The NHS is hiring 10,000 school leavers given training by The Prince’s Trust, according to news reports in early February. The hope is that this will begin to make up some of the shortfall and fill much-needed vacancies.
The new staff will work in a non-clinical capacity at hospitals around the country, but may go on to later training for more senior or medical roles. It gives a career path in care and nursing to those who don’t want to go down the traditional university training route.
The Trust hopes that it can use the same system to train young school leavers for the social-care sector too, but acknowledges that it has a less prestigious reputation than work in the NHS. One of the challenges facing the industry is dispelling myths that surround work in adult social care, and promoting the benefits and career opportunities available.
A lack of funding in the industry, coupled with shortfalls in the social care workforce, will put pressures on care providers too. There are two key concerns. First, in the event of providers unable to continue to supply their services due to rising costs and a lack of staff, less support will be available to service users. Second, in order meet these rising costs, providers will inevitably have to put their own service prices up, which could lead to service users financially unable to access the care and support that they need, or reduce the level of help that they are able to receive.
However, there are some more positive outlooks. Brexit has forced providers to look at their service models and prepare for worst-case scenarios. An editorial on the Health Service Journal back in September 2019 explores whether Brexit could in fact be a catalyst for a more joined-up health and social care system – something that has been on the agenda for years and is slowly being implemented in some areas. The article states: “The rhetoric has certainly changed markedly over the last decade: collaboration is now king and competition a dirty word. And there is evidence in some parts of the country of mature ICSs [Integrated Care Services] having fostered improved relationships between NHS organisations and care providers.”
Another more positive factor is that those who employ their own individual paid carer, rather than use a care agency or other care provider, are less likely to feel the impact of Brexit. Individuals providing homecare services in their local community will find their services can continue as they are with minimal interruption, enabling their service users to continue to receive the same care and support as pre-Brexit. In fact, there could be an uplift in the number of paid carers opting to go down the self-employed route as demand increases for good care workers in local communities and the fact that self-employed carers can set their own prices and working hours.
Here at You’re the Boss we will be watching the political landscape and its impact on social care over the next few months, and will deliver the latest findings as and when they are available, for both paid carers themselves and service users.