First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Labour leader Anas Sarwar clashed over social care crisis.
By Bill Heaney
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar today held the Scottish Government to account over the “devastating impact” of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He told MSPs in the Holyrood parliament: “Nowhere has that devastation been felt more than in our social care sector. Less than one per cent of our population live in a care home, but they account for a third of all Covid deaths.”
A report published by Audit Scotland today makes it clear that the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the long-standing challenges facing the social care sector.
And it goes on to say that the service is in “near crisis” and that “a lack of action now presents a serious risk to the delivery of care services for individuals.”
Mr Sarwar put First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on the spot: “What urgent action is the Government taking now to address those challenges?”
Ms Sturgeon replied: “I welcome today’s Audit Scotland report. In many respects, it does not tell us anything of which we have not all been aware.
“There is an urgent need for reform of our social care services; we are taking that forward through the proposals for the national care service. It is important that I recognise that the findings of the Audit Scotland report are largely in line with those of the independent review of adult social care. That is why we are moving to establish a national care service by the end of this session of Parliament.
She added: “In the meantime, we are increasing investment in social care. We are increasing the pay of people who work in social care because recruitment and retention, and valuing the social care workforce, are important parts of what we need to do.
“That work will continue as we take forward the plans for the national care service over the next few years. Everyone across Parliament will have the opportunity to contribute to those plans.”
Mr Sarwar told the First Minister: “Regardless of what happens with reform, some things cannot wait.”
He added: “We had a staffing crisis even before the pandemic. Services are now reporting that they do not have the staff that they need: 60 per cent of housing support services, 59 per cent of care at home services and 55 per cent of care homes for older people do not have the staff that they need.
“Audit Scotland’s stark report makes it clear that a lack of action now presents serious risks. According to Audit Scotland, social care staff are “under immense pressure” and that they are not adequately valued, engaged or rewarded for their vitally important role”.
He asked: “Does the First Minister accept that we urgently need a credible workforce plan, and that a 48p pay increase simply will not cut it? Will she back our plan for an immediate increase in pay to £12 an hour, rising to £15, for care workers?”
Ms Sturgeon replied: “We are taking action now, as we progress the plans for the national care service. We have a commitment to increase public investment in social care by 25 per cent over this session of Parliament and we have started on that journey.
“We have also taken steps to increase the pay of people in the adult social care workforce. In referring to 48p, Anas Sarwar misrepresents the scale of the amount. That is an increase of 48p per hour. That represents an increase of 12.9 per cent from March 2021 and is the first step towards substantially increasing pay in the adult social care workforce.
“We have already delivered an increase of 12.9 per cent. Does that go far enough? No. We have said that we want to go further. It is interesting that that is more than the increase in the part of the United Kingdom where Labour is currently in office and where just the real living wage is paid.
“We recognise the need for immediate action, and we are taking action immediately. We are also working with partners to attract more people into the sector. In November last year, we launched a national marketing campaign to attract and recruit more people into the sector.
“I hope that Anas Sarwar will acknowledge that there are real pressures on recruitment across health and social care—and across the wider economy—because of the impact of Brexit and the ending of free movement.
“That is a significant challenge. We will continue to make the investment that attracts people into the sector and will invest more in that sector as we take forward the longer-term reform of creating a national care service.”
Mr Sarwar was not content to back off. He said: “The Scottish National Party has been in Government for 15 years. No one else is to blame. The social care sector that was neglected before the pandemic has been failed during the pandemic. The workforce has been ignored, overstretched and undervalued. People who are in need of care at home have been neglected and are struggling to cope. Unpaid carers—of whom a disproportionate number are women—carry the burden of this Government’s failures.
“We have been calling for a national care service for more than a decade, but it cannot now be used as a Government slogan to delay action until 2026. Carers and those who need care cannot wait another four years.
“There are things that the First Minister can do right now. Will she take the burden off family carers by restarting respite services, pause commissioning to allow focus on delivery of social care, end non-residential care charges now and, finally, reward our front-line heroes with the pay increase that they deserve?”
Meanwhile, Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie, right, has said that the Scottish Government must act urgently on the findings of an Audit Scotland briefing on social care.
The document which was released yesterday, outlines that some services are near breaking point due to long-standing challenges.
Constituents have reported to Jackie Baillie how care packages haven’t been able to be fulfilled because of staff shortages and pressure is mounting on services.
Scottish Labour has continuously pushed for £15 per hour for social care staff, with an immediate rise to £12 per hour but the SNP government have refused to commit to the funding to support the move to properly pay hard-working staff.
Labour’s health and social care spokesperson said: “This report is a clear and direct warning to the Scottish Government regarding the parlous state of social care in Scotland.
“It is all too clear that, under the SNP’s watch, staff have been undervalued, service users have been disempowered and that the sector has been plunged into a recruitment crisis.
“Instead of funding prevention, the system funds crisis and many people have been left abandoned without care packages in place.
“If we are to reform social care in Scotland we need to make sure that it works for those who use services and for those who provide them.
“But so far only big companies have benefited as a result of the SNP’s plans for a National Care Service and staff are being presented with an insultingly small pay rise in the budget.
“Enough is enough – Scottish Labour will continue to fight for a National Care Service worthy of the name to provide high quality care and jobs to the people of Scotland.”