Brexit is nearing its end game, with less than 50 days until the 29 March deadline. With so little time, there is still much to be discussed and decided. However, it is hoped that politicians can find some resolution soon so that the government can turn their attention to other pressing concerns – not least the care sector crisis that is escalating. For the past two years, Brexit has dominated UK politics and has sadly meant that some other priorities have been kicked into the long grass.
For the social and care sectors the Green Paper, originally planned for the Summer of 2018, was supposed to outline a number of recommendations and themes to help determine the future of care. However, as a result of ongoing Brexit negotiations, the Green Paper on social care remains in limbo. This paper is essential in providing the industry with clarity on funding and strategy solutions for the sector, as well as promoting those who work in it.
As a result in the delay on this paper, firms have become more uncertain about their recruitment drive, further exacerbating the issue on recruiting – and retaining talent. Sadly, this has also led, in part, to more and more people having to take up the mantle of informal carers – caring for families and friends without the relevant training or experience. According to Carers UK, one in eight adults is a carer. Within the next 20 years it is expected that close to 9 million people in the UK will be informal carers.
It is for these reasons that recruiting and retaining nurses is so important. It is suggested that the industry currently has a skills gap of over 250,000 people. This is a huge number, and as we expect more and more people to need care as they get older, we can only see the strain on carers becoming even more acute.
Coupled with this increasing demand and lack of available resources, is the fact that the sector is undergoing huge cost pressures. Over the last few months we have seen failures at both public and private sector level, the most notable of which was one of the largest social care providers, Allied Healthcare, before Christmas.
As a sector, we need support from government, not just with funding – but also giving a clear direction. The sector needs leadership. There is certainly a funding gap, but there is also a skills gap that the government could easily help to turn around. Working in the care sector is a hugely rewarding vocation. However, the government needs to help encourage awareness of the sector – and supporting this with robust and adequate funding, not just for the short term, but for the longer-term. Currently the care sector is not competing against traditional competitors, but with retail, supermarket and the hospitality sectors that can offer better pay and conditions. With a growing population – and this population living longer than the generation before, the care sector needs assistance to ensure that the nation is well served. It can only do it if it has support. As an industry we have to appeal to a wider audience that may have the skills and experience but are dissuaded from exploring opportunities within the sector because of pay and lack of vision.
While funding and wages are undoubtedly a keen issue it is also true that the government could do more to ensure that strategies are aligned. A more sustainable model could include increasing wages under the headroom of higher charges.
Currently local authorities have autonomy, but we would argue that there needs to be an overarching strategy devolved from the government. The Green Paper must provide clarity in this area.
There is no doubt that working in the care sector can be incredibly challenging – but it is also incredibly rewarding. The industry, charities and government need to work together to ensure that those in the care community feel valued, appreciated, respected and trusted. It is a challenge that affects all of us and defines us as a nation in how we care for people