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The impact of ‘Brexit’ on social care

Posted on 06/07/2016

On Friday 24th June, we all woke up to the news that outcome of the EU referendum had been decided – it came as a shock to some, but the majority vote went to the commonly titled ‘Brexit’, the UK leaving the European Union.

Since then, there have been plenty of news reports focusing on some of the Leave campaign’s pledges and statements. It has been hard to miss, for example, talk of the suggested £350 million that would help to give extra funds to the NHS.  However, it can be difficult to separate the fact from the fear, and things are very uncertain at the moment, which means that no one really knows what the future looks like for the UK and its essential services.

Before the referendum, we put together a brief look at the potential effects of the vote, whichever way it went. Now, we round up the available information, concerns and hopes in the wake of the Out vote and the impact that it could have on the future of health and social care.

One issue that is likely to affect health and social care is staffing. At the moment, we don’t know what will happen with regards to EU workers in the UK after we exit. It is likely that an agreement will come into place that allows free movement of workers, or at least protects the rights of those already working in this country. However, this is speculation. What we do know is that about 6% of workers in social care are EU migrants, which is around 80,000 people (says a Community Care article).

There are staff shortages across the industry already, and while it will take time to put post-Brexit plans in place, the uncertainty and the falling value of the Pound could put EU workers off of working in the UK. Not to mention a growing concern in anti-social behaviour towards EU nationals living in the UK; while this is a tiny minority of people, it could potentially put EU workers off staying in the UK or moving here for work. If this becomes the case, then we could see an immediate impact. In social care in particular, where recruitment within the UK is hard, there would be difficulties filling positions in home care and care homes to meet the needs of an ever-growing ageing population.

Speaking in an article for Nursing Times, Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, says: “We need to remind politicians how vitally important the staff in social care are. It is essential that regardless of their background they feel valued. Recruitment and retention are essential components of the health and social care system”.

Writing for Forbes, healthcare expert Reenita Das suggests that “the biggest impact on manpower is expected to be in social care provision”. This is due to the aforementioned issues of current EU workers leaving the UK and difficulties in attracting people to the roles, after a large recruitment drive in social care workers brought in hundreds of EU workers to fill essential care jobs.

Funding is another large area of concern. With the NHS budget holding such a prominent position in the Leave campaign’s publicity, it is unlikely that cuts will be made in this area (if cuts are required while the economy recovers). It is more likely that social care will bear the brunt of these cuts (suggests an article in The Guardian) and this is an area that can ill-afford any more restrictions on spending, as local councils already struggle to provide services to their communities under current financial conditions.

There is some positivity, however. A report on LocalGov, suggests that Brexit presents an opportunity for health and social care, and finding a way for the NHS and the social care sector to join services effectively would be essential. This is something that is already sorely needed to give a real continuity of care.

We will be keeping an eye on developments over the next few months with interest, as the effects of Brexit and how it could impact on health and social care become more clear.  

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