'Exodus' of Eastern European staff puts pressure on care homes
- Credit: Norfolk County Council
An 'exodus' of Eastern European social care workers following Brexit has added to a storm that is building over social care in Norfolk.
As another £17.7m must be saved from Norfolk County Council's adult social care budget, the county's director of social care said workers leaving the UK was creating staffing shortages.
James Bullion said plugging vacancies and the fact pay lagged behind other jobs, including similar ones within the NHS, was an issue.
He said: "We have had an exodus of Eastern European staff since Christmas, who went home for Christmas and never came back. That creates real shortages in our sector.
"They made up about 8pc of our 27,000 social care workforce, so we are having to work with employers, with recruitment partners and to use a European Fund to train more social care workers."
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Research by charity Community Integrated Care found workers with similar skillsets to social workers, such as teaching assistants and police community support workers, were on about £7,000 a year more.
Mr Bullion said government regulation was needed to create a level playing field.
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He recently finished his year as president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS).
That was as the coronavirus pandemic struck the country - and he said it had been frustrating to see social care not given priority.
He said: "I left it angrier than when I began it, including because, when I left at the end of May, it was clear the government was not going to invest in social care this year.
"They are going to publish their reforms, but they are not going to kick in for another two years, whereas social care needs investment immediately."
Mr Bullion attended high level government meetings over the response to coronavirus during his time as ADASS president.
But he was left frustrated social care was often viewed through the lens of how it could ease pressure on the NHS, rather than as something of vital importance in itself.
In May, then health secretary Matt Hancock said the government tried to throw a protective ring around social care right from the start.
But Mr Bullion said: "During the peak of the pandemic in April, it did not feel like a ring of protection had been placed around social care.
"It always felt like social care was behind the curve compared to the NHS.
Mr Bullion raised concerns that the government prioritised personal protective equipment to the NHS ahead of care settings and people treated in hospitals for Covid-19 were discharged into care homes.
Mr Bullion said it also took time to get government departments to give local councils powers to best tackle coronavirus - such as through locally, not nationally, run contact tracing.
Mr Bullion has been pushing for adult social care reform. A green paper for that was promised in summer 2017, but has yet to be published.
New health and social care secretary Sajid Javid has signalled the social care reform plan will be published soon.
Mr Bullion said: "He needs to value social care. He needs to make a point and emphasise that, because that will help with our reputation and with recruitment.
"He needs to publish reform proposals quickly to give us light at the end of the tunnel and we need some short term investment to tide us over.
"I am optimistic, though. Because he has been a minister for local government, a minister for housing and chancellor, he has a wider perspective than his predecessor."
As part of Norfolk County Council's need to make almost £40m of savings next year, Mr Bullion has been told to find £17.7m from the social care budget.
He said: "Our strategy for two or three years has been to invest in prevention, to integrate with the NHS where we can and to use social work model to its strengths and to charge where that is legally possible."
Last year, the county council lost a judicial challenge after it made changes to disability support charges, which Mr Bullion acknowledged meant charging was "less possible than before".
But he said the department could save money by investing in more independent living, such as in a 58-apartment scheme called Swallowtail Place taking shape in Acle.
He said: "Every one of those we do saves us about £200,000. It creates jobs and it is what people want."