Brexit is the biggest issue on the agenda as election fever starts to take hold, and with good reason. The policy decisions that are made over the coming months and years will have a dramatic effect on people’s daily lives. Yet with the focus on trade deals and tactical voting, the continuing crisis in social care has dropped below the government’s radar lately, and with Brexit looming there is the potential for it to get a lot worse.
At present, non-British EU nationals account for approximately 7% of staff working in social care, rising to 12% in regions such as London. While that might not sound like a huge number, the sector has become increasingly reliant on EU workers to fill gaps in the workforce, with a 40% increase in the numbers of EU workers in the past three years alone.
However, the latest figures indicate that these numbers have stalled as the uncertainty over Brexit takes effect. If the government were to prevent current EU workers from remaining in the UK, the consequences for the sector would be catastrophic, resulting in an exodus of as many as 90,000 care workers.
These numbers should be alarming on their own, but when you consider the social care industry currently operates with a staff turnover rate of 27%, equivalent to 928 people leaving their job every day, the potential for disaster is clear. This is despite the recent rise in the minimum wage, benefiting millions of care workers, which has done nothing to stem the flow.
The real issue for many care workers are the stressful working conditions, as cuts to local authority government funding mean Councils are forced to stretch their resources further. For care workers, this means working longer hours while under immense pressure to carry out their duties more quickly without impacting the quality of care.
Indeed, this crisis comes at a time when the government should be doing everything in its power to support social care staffing levels, yet its current position on the status of EU workers remains worryingly uncertain.
Nor are the effects limited to the social care sector. A fall in the number of social care staff will inevitably have enormous consequences for the NHS, which is reliant on an effective and functioning social care system.
When asked a question about the social care crisis at a recent campaign rally, Theresa May said the Conservatives “need to stop ducking the issue”, and she is right, they do. However, if her party is serious about doing so they will need to make some difficult decisions, and this means stating unequivocally that EU care workers will be given permission to remain in the UK. Until then, social care provision in the UK remains under grave threat.