Brexit and Social Care – Bad news all round

JC Captioned imageJames Churchill, previous Chief Executive of ARC UK and current CEO of Social Care Training Ltd and Chair of the European Association of Service Provider for Persons with Disabilities Interest Group on Human Resources, has shared with us his recent blog that has been published in ‘New Europe’. 

When the UK goes to the polls on June 23rd to vote in the in-or-out referendum for EU membership, I doubt that many voters will be considering the impact of that decision on social care in the UK. Next to such weighty arguments over sovereignty, controlling migration, economic growth, etc what happens in social care might seem trivial.

Yet the inter-connectedness of modern society leads inexorably to the conclusion that it does matter.

The impact of ‘leaving’ on the less well off in society would be far from trivial. Amid all the statistical claims and armies of ‘experts’ arrayed on either side, it now seems widely accepted that leaving would have an adverse economic impact on the UK (and possibly the rest of the EU too) and the ‘wasted EU money’ which the Brexiteers claim would be saved by leaving appears to have already been spent several times over.

The exact size of this alleged ‘saving’ is controversial, with the Head of the UK Statistics Authority unusually publicly criticising the Brexiteers claim of £350m saving per week as ‘potentially misleading.’ The chair of the Public Accounts Committee described this claim as ‘simply not true.’ So – first result with a post Brexit smaller economy – there will be less money to pay for things like social care, which already has had years of cuts.

Voting to leave would surely result in admitting fewer workers to the UK. A decision to leave and then letting more ‘foreign workers’ in is not a credible political response to that decision. Yet both health and social care relies on non-UK born staff to keep services going. Migrant workers, and particularly non-EU migrants, play a significant role in the social service workforce. Nearly 1 in every 5 was born outside of the UK (approximately 266,000 people), with 28% born in the EU and 72% born outside it.1 There has been a sharp increase in the number of migrant workers in the sector between 2011 and 2015: 14% of non-EU and 40% of EU migrant workers arrived during this period. Simply cutting off that supply (EU and/or non-EU) will cause a care staffing crisis, which will be mirrored in other employment sectors like hospitality, catering, retail and cleaning. So – second result – not enough staff to meet the rising demand caused by deinstitutionalisation, an ageing population and personalisation of services, never mind the further question about whether or not to work in this sector at all.

Leaving the EU potentially exposes low paid workers in the care sector to the imposition of less attractive working conditions, eg longer hours, fewer / weaker employment rights, even more zero hours contracts. Leaving the EU would make it easier to weaken these and the much-reviled Working Time Directive has already been marked for early removal in the UK. Third result – working in social care will be even less attractive than now, with fewer jobs, cash strapped services and greater insecurity of employment. Recruitment into the sector will continue to get harder.

However, non-financial drawbacks through leaving matter just as much. Currently the UK is a vibrant member of the NGO sector in Europe, contributing to policy development and benefitting from sharing knowledge, ideas and skills across the sector between member states using ESF funding.

This covers things like staff training, promoting employment, protecting the rights of people with disabilities and, with wide ranging implications for all, implementing Europe’s Disability Strategy – eg over 85,000 British people with disabilities received help towards getting a job from the ESF in 2015. Such matters are hardly going to be a priority for a cash strapped post-Brexit UK Government. The UK’s disability sector will face policy isolation, smaller dedicated resources and few opportunities to learn and share. Fourth result – a narrowing of vision and knowledge in social care (and many other sectors too).

Finally, if the UK voted to leave, it would extinguish forever the faint hope that at some future time it would be possible to construct a means of establishing any form of social dialogue of the care sector in the UK. At present this is only a remote possibility, with all the pressures – such as the personalisation of services, the casualisation and atomisation of the workforce, the constantly changing short term contractualised services – all making the idea of social dialogue across the sector harder to achieve.

As strengthening social dialogue is a current priority for the EU, the gap between the EU and a post-Brexit Britain will only get larger if progress on this were to be made. Final result – the sector cannot speak for itself or even to itself in the UK and is left at the mercy of market forces. So, in summary, would Brexit help social care in the UK or in Europe? No. It would isolate both parties, disadvantage workers in the sector and disadvantaged people (eg disabled, young, unemployed, with low educational attainment) and lead to an impoverished vision of what could be done to implement Europe’s Disability Strategy. Keep your fingers crossed we vote to stay in Europe!

*All views and opinions are James Churchill’s own.  This blog was previously published by New Europe.

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