Brexit and social care

The UK has voted for Brexit. And there has been plenty of analysis before and after the vote about what this means for our country, but most discussion has been about the finance sector, exports, and when touching on care, all about the NHS. What does this mean for adult social care?

A first response is that it will affect the care sector badly, as there is already a desperate labour shortage nationally and specifically in Oxfordshire. Skills for Care’s NMDS-online shows that nearly 14% of care staff and 1 in 4 Registered Nurses working in Oxfordshire are from non-British EEA countries. Clearly, some personal circumstances mean the status of individuals may soften the impact of Brexit, such as marriage to a British national, and we are clearly a long way from knowing generally what will be the impact on people who live here and contribute valuable skills to our sector, but there is no doubt that this vote is a wake up call to a sector, already under severe pressure from decreasing contract prices and rising costs. The loss of a Registered Nurse, or one direct carer puts added strain on the rest of the workforce and we can ill afford to lose more capacity. And whilst ‘care’ as a profession remains neither a key skill for overseas workers, nor is it designated as a key-worker role providing a leg-up on the housing ladder, we will need to think about how to replace the estimated 80,000 non-British EEA care workers in Britain. An obvious way might be to go to our long-time Commonwealth allies, but as Brexit was also about immigration, that door may close too. We will need to forge new relationships and find innovative ways of supporting our elderly and vulnerable people; this means relying more on our existing communities.

There are wider implications of Brexit on social care too, and not just in the impact of our health services, but also potential effects on the construction industry, another sector with a severe labour and skills shortage. About one care home a year is being built in Oxfordshire. Without the labour to build we will not have places to support people, nor the houses for their carers to live in; our infrastructure is facing pressure from all fronts.

Our procurement laws are EU led and potentially there could be a relaxation of some of the more stringent requirements, possibly providing more flexibility for providers, but this depends on local commissioners recognising that there are new opportunities to align communities, providers and allow the limited funding available to go as far as possible. Do local public servants have the capacity or capability to think creatively at this time?

So, whilst celebrations might be in order for businesses looking forward to cutting red tape and regulation, hard times are close at hand for continued delivery of care services. We must continue to speak up for our sector and be clear about why our priorities are the UK’s priorities.

If Brexit truly is an opportunity, let’s challenge our new leaders to meet them head on.