Brexit. That terrifying word we’re all not quite sure the meaning of, and even scarier, the people in charge don’t really know what it’ll mean either. It dominates the news headlines on a daily basis however Brexit remains a mysterious entity. The deadline is imminent but as of right now, we don’t know what Brexit will actually look like. Will there be a deal? Will we face a No Deal Brexit? What exactly is a No Deal Brexit? How will this impact trade, travel and society? There are so many unanswered questions, but one of the unknown consequences of leaving the European Union that could be severely problematic is the impact it’ll have on the care sector.
In particular, we need to look at the affect Brexit could have on adult social care. Adults in care have a physical or mental illness, or a physical or learning disability which requires them to need some form of help in their day to day routines; and with over 1.8 million new requests to local councils in 2015/16, it’s a major part of our society which we need to consider. In addition, we have a aging population who are living longer and requiring more from our social care sector; and who we may not be able to provide for if Brexit is not thought out.
The UK’s care industry is currently supported by thousands of EU care workers, all of whom could be forced to leave the United Kingdom come next Spring. This would leave our sector with a massive workforce deficit, while already fighting a massive recruitment and employee retention crisis. Brexit could result in thousands of vulnerable people who need care missing out on life-changing services, just because the people currently filling those roles will be forced to relocate. Whether you agree with the desired controls on immigration that won the Brexit vote or not, it seems clear that no-one really considered the damage this will do to the care sector. Social care organisations across the country are painfully understaffed and ridiculously underfunded, so cutting the supply of moderately cheaper foreign labour without having the proper platform in place to replace said labour, will put the care sector under insurmountable pressure.
Additionally, a no deal Brexit might mean the UK faces tariffs on EU goods, thereby raising the costs for any UK care providers who utilise EU produced or sold goods, such as beds, medications or other essential items. With costs as high as they are now, the sector would simply not survive an increase in their financial strain. Care homes would go bust and be forced to close, leaving countless people, primarily vulnerable adults who may be suffering from a long-term illness that requires professional help. If the final deal does not consider their needs, Brexit could end up spelling disaster for the adult social care sector by hiking up their costs, as well as limiting their labour.
We’re not the only ones who are concerned about this it seems. Yesterday was the deadline for submissions for a Parliament inquiry into what impact a no deal Brexit will have on the health and social care sector, to gather evidence about what the consequences could be and how stakeholders are preparing for the possible outcome. But is this enough? Will it be a case of just hearing what the sector has to say instead of actually listening and heeding their fears? While the politicians debate endlessly on Brexit or no Brexit, deal or no deal, single market or not; it’s up to the rest of us to start planning for every eventuality with realistic solutions. The concept of “we’ll save so much money once we leave the EU” may turn out to be true, but if economists are even the smallest bit right, that won’t be for a while, and the wrong kind of Brexit (or really any kind of Brexit) will begin hurting the social care sector straight away. We need to start brainstorming as a united society for all the possible Brexits while the final deal remains unclear, or make sure the voices and needs of the social care sector are heard and listened to during the negotiation. We have to make sure that care is not forgotten amongst political squabbles or party lines – this sector supports anyone and everyone.
We can’t let it down now.