The surprise result in the UK’s European Union (EU) referendum has created many questions about the future our relationship with the EU and its economic prospects as a result. Business and political leaders working in the social care sector – which was already facing significant challenges before the referendum – need to rally together to avoid fallout and capitalise on the opportunities that might arise from a new working relationship with the EU and wider afield.

In terms of policy, the political malaise resulting from the referendum means that vital decisions on the future of social care are now going to be on the backburner, with policymakers’ attention focused elsewhere. While immediate concerns about David Cameron’s successor and a drawn out leadership battle have been put to rest by Theresa May’s ascension to Number 10, questions about the nature and timings of Britain’s departure from the EU dominate political discourse.

With a new Prime Minister there is now a great opportunity for the sector to take the lead on social care, putting the patient and their needs front and centre of the debate.

While the Brexit campaign’s promises of an extra £350 million a week for the NHS will not materialise, the sector has been provided with some stability through Theresa May’s decision to keep Jeremy Hunt as Health Secretary. Under Hunt, Philip Dunne MP has been appointed Minister for Care and Support. Leaders in the sector must now reach out to the new regime, and make sure the care needs of Britain’s elderly population are at the top of the policy agenda to drive a patient-centric care.

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Two obstacles: funding and recruitment

There are several social care-related issues that industry needs to ensure the public and politicians remain aware of.

The social care sector’s funding situation makes it a difficult environment to operate in, with Councils seeing a £1bn shortfall in their budgets this year alone. While providers’ innovative approaches to care provision will continue to ensure high standards, they must continue to push for a solution to such funding shortfalls. Furthermore, providers must also continue to make the case for the economic and personal benefits of home care as an alternative to residential care.

As freedom of movement between EU member states and Britain is negotiated – along with Britain’s wider migration policy – careful attention needs to be paid to the care sector. Presently, a huge number of migrants are employed in social care, with some estimates suggesting that one in five of all adult social care workers are from abroad.

With the number of elderly Britons set to grow rapidly in coming decades, care workers are of great value and it is hugely important that policymakers ensure the sector’s labour supply is able to meet demand. To achieve this goal, a much-needed review of the current model is required.

Although there are challenges for the sector to overcome, there are also clear new opportunities to advance its interests and put the care of Britain’s growing elderly population firmly on the policy agenda.