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Leaving the EU: The impact on social care

With the end of the transition period now upon us and with a deal confirmed, social care consultant, John Kennedy, informs providers about what they should be aware of and alert to in relation to the EU exit.

What seems like a lifetime ago, in the dim pre-pandemic mists of January 2020, the UK formally left the European Union. At the time, there was a frenzy of activity as sector representatives, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and local authorities tried to assess the impact on social care and put in place reassurance and guidance to support the sector.

Then of course the brutal and seemingly remorseless virus hit and, rightly, thereafter all attention has been focused on getting through day by day. The social care sector has demonstrated phenomenal bravery, resilience and kindness throughout the crisis. Stepping up wave after wave.

For social care, relentless is business as usual; there are no ‘half-day closing’ days, closed on Sunday or any other day. It really is a truly 24/7 commitment. Planning for any crisis, being prepared, and constantly reviewing contingency is, more than many other sectors, very much business as usual.

The end of the transition period following the UK’s exit has now come to an end. Although a deal was struck, there are still aspects that providers should be aware of and alert to. It seems that we may just be on the verge of a glimpse of a light in the distance. The roll out of vaccines and the hope that they bring should soon lead to lower infection rates and, most importantly, a reduction in the number of people getting critically ill and dying. Hopefully, the time will soon come when the sector, by its standards, can have some time to regroup. Relentless though it will remain.

The Settlement Scheme

Of the approximately 1.5 million people working in social care, it is estimated that 7% (more than 100,000) are EU Nationals. This is an average, and Skills for Care estimates that the figure could be as high as 16% in certain parts of the South East and other areas.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), of the more than four million EU Nationals living in the UK, a significantly high proportion have already applied to work in the social care sector. The vast majority of those who have applied have been granted either full settled status or pre-settled. This allows them to remain and continue to work legally in the UK. However, there isn’t any firm data on the proportion of EU Nationals working in social care who have not yet applied. A recent survey from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants made for some troubling reading. From an online survey, they reported one in seven EU Nationals not knowing about the Settlement Scheme, which increased to one in three who were surveyed in person.

The response from Government has been confident in asserting that the take-up of the Settlement Scheme has been very high. However, providers might feel it prudent to review their individual situations and take any action to ensure that EU Nationals in their workforce are aware of and are supported to apply. The deadline for applications is 30th June 2021. It might be wise to apply early and avoid any unforeseen changes or policy shifts nearer to the date.

Similarly, EU Nationals in receipt of care, for example those living in a care home or receiving homecare, also need to be aware of the scheme and supported to apply. If they don’t apply by the deadline of 30th June 2021, there is a risk that they lose their right to access public funds and may face difficulties in accessing NHS and other statutory services. Providers may feel it is also prudent to ensure that clients and their next of kin are aware of the scheme and are signposted to access the right support.

The Care Provider Alliance has a very useful set of guidance for providers to assist in supporting staff and customers in applying for settled status. The guidance also sets out the actions and limitations in respect of the duty of providers.

Key recommendations are:

  • Review your business continuity plan to ensure it covers the EU Settlement Scheme and implications for your workforce and people who use your services.
  • Assess how many members of staff and people who use your service might be affected by the EU Settlement Scheme. You’ll need to understand if they’re likely to leave the UK before 30th June 2021 or if they might need extra support to apply to the scheme, and what actions you can take to manage the implications and reduce any risks.
  • Ensure relevant staff, people using your services and their next-of-kin or advocates are aware of the EU Settlement Scheme and how to apply.
  • Encourage and support staff and others to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme before 30th June 2021.
  • Provide information and reassurance to staff, those using your services and their family or friends.
  • Ensure staff can direct people using services and their carers to information about the EU Settlement Scheme but ensure they don’t act as formal advisers on the issues or process.
  • Allocate staff time and resources to the issue. This will vary depending on the scale and type of your organisation. Staff with lead responsibility for workforce contingency planning and engagement with people who use your services may be the most relevant leads on the EU Settlement Scheme.

The full guidance can be found on the Care Provider Alliance website. Providers should also be aware that EU Nationals have been added to the Government’s Voluntary Returns Scheme, which provides financial support for EU Nationals to return to their country of origin. This could potentially create a challenge for the stability of the workforce.

A kink in the chain

The full implications of the UK leaving the EU will not be known for years to come, but some early potential issues are worth being aware of, particularly in relation to how any difficulties are escalated. The DHSC wrote to all care providers on 21st December 2020 setting out the main issues and provisions that have been made from a national preparedness standpoint.

The main areas of note are in relation to potential supply chain disruption around medical supplies, non-medical supplies and data security.

The letter includes:

  • Messages for adult social care providers preparing for EU transition.
  • Summary of actions taken by the Government on continuity of supply.
  • Responding to local supply disruption – update for adult social care providers and local authorities.

Apart from the reassurance around national supply, the letter also sets out how providers can escalate difficulties to get support to maintain their service provision. Escalation should normally be first through the local authority and/or Local Resilience Forum (LRF), including, where necessary, reporting to the National Supply Disruption Response (NSDR) team.

One point to stress: the local authority has the same responsibilities and duties under the Care Act irrespective of whether a service or individual has their service commissioned. The local authority has a general responsibility to ensure local people’s needs are met, state-funded or self-funded.

Sector representative bodies have been working closely with Government on EU exit preparedness. It is important that providers escalate issues promptly so that the voice of the sector can be heard.

Lasting legacy

As we hopefully emerge from the grim shadow of 2020, it would be good to be able to expect that the incredible example shown by all those working in social care will finally result in the recognition and respect that the sector deserves, so the next crisis that arrives can be met by a better resourced, respected and cherished sector. Crucially, with the exclusion of social care staff from the new UK immigration system, never has it been more important for providers to be able to offer the pay, conditions and opportunities that will be required to build the new care workforce.

Over the course of the pandemic emergency funding has been filtered through to providers to help with increased cost associated with infection control measures and PPE. The recent announcement of a further £120m Workforce Capacity Fund is welcome. Surely, the time has come for a long-term, sustainable and fair funding settlement for social care, with a properly resourced People Plan to build and enable a stable and skilled workforce. It’s time to value social care.

John Kennedy is an Independent Social Care Consultant. Email: Twitter: @johnnycosmos

How prepared are you for the associated impact of the EU exit? Comment on this feature.

More guidance on Business Continuity in general and specific guidance on a range of potential issues can be found on the CPA website.






About John Kennedy

John spent 15 years working for an independent care company before joining JRHT/JRF in 2001 as Deputy Director of Care Services, becoming Director of Care Services in 2004. He managed a mixed portfolio of care homes, retirement villages and supported living in York, Leeds, Scarborough and Hartlepool.

His current roles include being Trustee of the Wilberforce Trust, Director of The Residential Forum and Honorary Lecturer at City University, London. John is currently working as a freelance consultant in social care.

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