Social services in the UK could be opened up to international competition under a European Union directive.
The services directive, which would remove the legal and administrative barriers that prevent free trade across the EU’s service sector, won the backing of the European parliament last month.
Social services and health provision were exempted by the parliament but could be included in revised proposals tabled by the European Commission next month ahead of a potential decision at the European Council in
Nick Crook, international officer at Unison, which opposes the directive, said the UK government and continental neo-liberal governments had wanted social services included.
He said confusion about the way social services had been defined in the exemption could result in its reintroduction.
But he said a “country of origin” clause, which would allow providers to operate across the EU under the pay, conditions and regulations of their own country, was unlikely to resurface, even though it also had backing from the Department of Trade and Industry.
A DTI spokesperson said it was “disappointing” the country of origin clause had been rejected by MEPs but said there was a long way to go in the progress of the directive.
He said the DTI would examine what had been agreed and consider how it could be “improved further”.
David Walden, the Commission for Social Care Inspection’s strategy director, said that without the country of origin clause the directive could be extended to social services as providers would continue to operate in this country under UK regulations. “Social care is already delivered by a diverse provider market in this country, some owned by overseas players,” he said.
But English Community Care Association chief executive Martin Green said the directive should be treated with caution.
He said it may allow UK service providers to explore opportunities in other countries but continental providers may be able to enter the UK by taking advantage of lower costs in their home markets.
The impact of removing the exemption needed to be fully researched, he added.