Vulnerable elderly and disabled people in need of care could be put at risk as a result of Brexit. How can the care industry respond, so that each individual is able to receive the support they need?
A care crisis is looming in this country. As many as 80,000 care workers may lose their right to live in the UK, following the vote to leave the European Union. A report by the charity Independent Age showed that even a small cut in the amount of care workers could mean there simply won’t be enough staff to meet the demands.
Voting for Brexit was highest in Britons aged over 65 years, which is ironic as it is this group who may be most affected by the migration of care workers away from the UK. Those of us that work in the industry are only too aware that thousands of people across the country rely on EU care workers to enable them to live safely in their own homes. Our aging population together with the increasing numbers of people with complex care needs numbers mean that the system is already under strain.
The size of the problem
There are currently 1.3 million people working in the care sector, eighty thousand of whom are migrants from the European Union. Some experts believe that there may simply not be enough British born workers that are willing and able to fill the gap.
The report by Independent Age predicted a shortfall of 350, 000 carers in 25 years’ time, unless pay and conditions improve. If we lose the crucial EU workers, the system may not be able to cope and vulnerable elderly and disabled people will be at risk.
Many care providers are already noticing a difference. European carers are hesitant to move to the UK in the wake of the Brexit result. The truth is that no one really knows what is going to happen in the future.
Challenging but rewarding work
It is no secret that recruiting and retaining staff into the care sector is a challenge. Although the work is incredibly rewarding it can also be emotionally draining, shifts are often long and pay is low when compared to other sectors of the economy. Unfortunately, these conditions have lead to increased turnover of staff. At any one time there are thousands of unfilled vacancies and the pressure on carers is increasing all the time. So how can we make a difference?
The way ahead?
As the founder of an online service for home care, HomeTouch, I am a passionate advocate of individuals being cared for at home, so that they are able to live independently and with dignity. But I also believe, that carers cannot live sustainably with low wages and poor working conditions and this ultimately impacts upon the care vulnerable people receive.
In order to respond to the challenges following Brexit, the industry needs to embrace efficiencies through technology and be committed to raising the wages of carers. Attracting both new interest and people who have left into the care profession is a fruitless activity unless the leaking bucket is fixed by improving working conditions, offering flexibility and autonomy as well as increasing pay.
Providing families with choice of their carer, setting minimum limits on visit times and automating many administrative functions are ways to square this circle.
While I hope that the Government will see sense and allow EU workers to stay in the UK, this is not a long term solution to the staffing crisis. We also need to plan for the future. By making care work attractive and appealing to British workers, we can adapt to the impact of Brexit and ensure that vulnerable people get the care they need, now and for future generations..
Dr Jamie Wilson, dementia physician and former NHS doctor, founded HomeTouch in 2015 after witnessing the chronic shortage of home carers and strain placed on families and the health service. His vision is to raise the standards of home care by ensuring improved continuity of care, tracking of carer performance, better working conditions for carers, and better outcomes for patients.