EU migrants fill an estimated 6% of jobs in the social care sector in England, and the majority of them will be concerned about what a British withdrawal from the EU will mean for them in both the short and the long term. It is important that leadership teams offer quick and firm reassurance to minimise disruption to the delivery of the services you provide. Let staff know you are closely monitoring developments and will be responsive to change where needed. It is reassuring that it is anticipated that the status of the millions of EU workers already living in the UK will not change and any block on freedom of movement is unlikely for at least two years (if at all). Providers should ensure good communication with staff that confirms that there will be no immediate impact on employment and that the contribution of every care worker matters, is valued, and that you are committed to maintaining a diverse and cohesive workforce.
Government policy change
During the campaign, Chancellor George Osborne said that if the UK voted to leave there would be a further reduction in public spending in order to plug a £30 billion “black hole”. Publicly funded social care can’t survive further cuts when the gap between what councils are currently paying and what providers say good quality care costs, is already significant. Providers should use this time, and the anticipated review of the Budget, as an opportunity to voice the ongoing funding crisis in the sector, and argue for an improved financial settlement for social care that doesn’t require waiting for the next Comprehensive Spending Review. The Communities and Local Government Committee is already examining whether the funding available for adult social care is sufficient for local authorities to fulfil their statutory obligations to assess and meet the needs of people requiring care and support. Providers should engage with their umbrella bodies to help them prepare the most compelling and complete picture of the evidence as possible (the deadline for submissions is 19 August).
Change of sentiment
Most concerning for the social care sector is the vision of other EU nationals packing their bags and heading home or to other EU countries. As already highlighted, the immediate priority for all providers should be reassuring your staff that they are all valued, wanted, and that you are committed to maintaining a diverse workforce. Unfortunately, with the value of the British pound reading its lowest in 31 years, low-paid care work could become even more unattractive for EU nationals. It remains the case that the social care sector needs to do more to position itself as a positive career choice. Providers will need to focus on selling the opportunities that a career in social care offers, including the paths for progression and job satisfaction. Should the Government suggest a points system, or similar measures, providers will need to campaign to ensure that social care is included in any list of shortage occupations that may develop.
There are wider implications of Brexit on social care than just funding and workforce issues. With the predicted immediate financial aftermath, the construction industry is likely to be the most affected. This could impact on the number of care homes being built and therefore the number of residential places available to support people. This is likely to put further pressure on home-care services, although could also provide further opportunities to grow privately-funded care. The impact on the financial markets will also affect the funding of defined benefit pension schemes, and is likely to result in higher employer contributions as schemes look to plug the gap. Providers with these schemes will need to think carefully about the potential impact on their financial model.
Matt has substantial experience in providing strategic employment advice to employers predominantly in the health and social care and housing fields