The New Year can often be a cause for optimism and a fresh start, unfortunately, the crisis in social care shows no signs of relenting. On New Year’s Day, the Daily Telegraph published a new investigation which revealed that huge numbers of expats living in popular resorts on the Spanish coast are being lured back to the UK by care agencies in desperate need of temporary home-care staff.
Many of those making the trip back home are builders, waitresses, and former businessmen who are still struggling with the financial consequences of the Spanish property slump and are in search of additional income. Consequently, the vast majority lack any prior experience in providing home care to disabled and elderly adults, and are typically provided with only a few days training before starting work. The investigation also found that very few have any real interest in providing care, and are motivated instead by the significant financial reward.
Of particular concern is the discovery that many of these workers are registered as self-employed by their agencies, which means their conduct is not regulated by the Care Quality Commission. This will result in circumstances where there are inexperienced carers with minimal training providing care to vulnerable adults with very little oversight.
In the context of the wider social care crisis, the notion that care agencies are flying inexperienced expats back from Benidorm to fill staff shortages is farcical and clearly demonstrates the dire consequences of years of underfunding and a lack of coherent strategy. The current lack of qualified care staff should also act as a clear warning of the huge challenges that lie ahead with regard to staffing after Brexit.
At present, around 90,000 care workers in Britain are from EU countries and their future remains uncertain under the current government. Given that there is already a lack of qualified care staff, it is essential that these workers are allowed to remain here. If they are not, the consequences for those who rely on social care services could be fatal.
The most likely alternative would permit current EU residents living in Britain to remain here, but would prevent the free movement of labour going forward. The ageing population means demand for carers will continue to rise. Thus, if the social care sector is to function without the flow of additional EU labour, it will be hard pressed to meet the extra demand and it is vital that the government invests heavily to ensure that there are enough carers with adequate training to cope.
The consequences of inaction extend beyond social care. Only this week the CEO of British Red Cross said there was a ‘humanitarian crisis’ gripping the NHS as it struggles to maintain standards while demand continues to rise. Social care has a vital role to play in preventing hospital admissions and reducing bed blocking. If the NHS is to survive, it desperately needs a well-funded and staffed social care system to support it.