Britain has voted to leave the European Union. In the wake of the result Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation. A new leader of the Conservative party will be elected in October. What are the potential implications for social work and social care?
Social care funding
The economy was a key feature of the EU referendum debate. In the wake of the Brexit vote the pound’s value plummeted. During the campaign, chancellor George Osborne said he would have to slash public spending and put up taxes in order to plug a £30bn “black hole” if the UK voted to leave. Speaking alongside his predecessor Alistair Darling, Osborne said £15bn would have to come from cuts. Spending on local government could be reduced by 5% and the ring-fenced NHS budget cut, the pair warned.
The UK would not be able to “afford the size of the public services that we have at the moment” outside the European Union and would have to “cut its cloth” accordingly, Osborne said at the time. Tory MPs in the leave campaign dismissed the warnings saying they “cannot possibly allow” cuts to services that their party promised to protect in the 2015 manifesto. Now that the country has voted, the assertions of both camps will be put to the test. More cuts to council funding would place further strain on an under-pressure social care sector.
Social work reforms
Cameron made reforming children’s social care, and social work, a key mission of his second term in office. He’s promised an overhaul of social work regulation, accreditation for children’s social workers and new offences that could see social workers jailed for ‘wilful neglect’. He’s also said persistently failing councils will have their children’s services taken over, as part of a “zero tolerance of state failure”.
With Cameron personally invested in this agenda, what will his resignation mean for it? The reforms are unlikely to be abandoned. Several changes are already in track and legislation, the Children and Social Work Bill, is currently going through parliament. The bill’s likely to get through because, unlike controversial changes to academies, the social work reforms do not split the Conservative party. More likely is that implementation of the reforms could be delayed as negotiations of the EU exit and a Tory leadership contest mean other government business goes on the back burner.
The care workforce
EU migrants fill an estimated 6% of jobs in the social care sector in England. That amounts to around 80,000 people. There are fears a Brexit will cause a “care staffing crisis” by reducing supply of workers willing to take on jobs that are often low-paid. There are also worries leaving the EU could make it easier to weaken employment rights set out by the EU, such as the Working Time Directive.
Much will depend on the terms of Britain’s exit. Norway, for example, is not an EU member but has an arrangement that keeps free movement of people with EU member states. What are the chances of Britain seeking a similar deal? All we know is Brexiteers made curbing immigration a key part of their campaign.
This morning Mike Padgham, Chair of the United Kingdom Homecare Association, which represents homecare providers, said: “Following yesterday’s vote, the legal position in the UK has not immediately changed. Laws which stem from the European Union, including human rights law and significant parts of employment legislation, will remain in force, unless the UK Government makes alternative provision.
“The ability of the social care sector to recruit and retain an effective workforce is of particular concern. The contribution of every care worker matters and the ability for employers to recruit non-British EU citizens as part of the social care workforce, will be particularly important for many homecare providers. It is an issue over which UKHCA will be fully engaged.”
Human rights protections
The European convention on human rights, enshrined in law in this country in the Human Rights Act, plays a vital part in social care. The EU and the UK have also ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which guarantees equality of rights of disabled people on issues such as health, education and independent living.
How will this be impacted by the Brexit vote? Here’s a statement from Fiona McGhie, a public law expert at law firm Irwin Mitchell: “Membership of the EU offers a large degree of protection for people with disabilities because of its directives on equality. However, if that protection was removed by a vote to leave the EU, people with disabilities would still benefit from the CRPD and the ECHR.
“It is unlikely that Equality Act would be repealed should the UK leave the EU, as we would still need to comply with the other international conventions which we have ratified. However, people with disabilities would not benefit from any further directives or regulations that the EU issued on disability rights and would be reliant on domestic legislation and common law keeping pace with the advancement of the rights of people with disabilities.
“What Brexit would affect is the ability to potentially rely on the European Charter of Fundamental Rights (CFR) which in particular includes many wider social and economic rights, such as the rights to fair and just working conditions, to healthcare and to have personal data protected. If disabled people wished to try and strike down UK legislation as incompatible with rights under CFR under EU law – that avenue may not be available after the vote to leave.”