The Scottish Budget could not have come at a time of greater economic and social uncertainty for families, communities and services, according to Jackie Baillie, the Labour MSP for Dumbarton, which includes Vale of Leven, Cardross, Helensburgh and the Lochside.
By Jackie Baillie MSP
The pandemic created unprecedented challenges for businesses and our schools, and it added immense pressure to our struggling health and social care sector. There has been more job uncertainty than ever before, and there is not a high street in Scotland that has not seen closures over the past two years.
In the face of all that, one would think that the Scottish Government would have introduced an ambitious, forward-thinking and recovery-focused budget, but, sadly, we are faced with something that largely disappoints.
I welcome the increase in the Scottish child payment, which Labour and third sector organisations called for and campaigned for, but I make the observation that it will be insufficient to meet the target to reduce child poverty.
We are facing a cost of living crisis of a scale and intensity that has not been experienced for many years. Household bills, energy bills and water bills are rising, and it is likely that council tax will rise, too.
Given what we face, this year’s budget document reads like missed opportunity after missed opportunity. The SNP is making hard-working families across Scotland pick up the bill for almost 15 years of money mismanagement.
I turn to the impact that the budget will have on our national health service and the social care sector.
The First Minister has reminded us that she was the health minister previously. How could we forget? She was the health minister who failed to pass on record levels of funding for the NHS from a UK Labour Government led by Gordon Brown.
Had she passed on to health the Barnett consequentials that she received from 2007 to 2010 instead of diverting the money elsewhere, the health budget would be £1 billion more than it is now.
Of course, the SNP used to say that all Barnett consequentials [the system where a proportion of the money spent on major projects in England, Wales and Northern Ireland] for health would remain in health, but that is simply not true now.
Now, it uses a strange formulation of words to say that they are the consequentials for front-line health and social care.
If members need any more evidence, they should just look at the £45 million that was taken from the health and social care budget and given to the business hardship fund in December.
I am sure that the cabinet secretary [Kate Forbes, pictured] will have a line in her briefing to justify that, but how many care packages would £45 million have bought?
How many delayed discharges could have been prevented, to free up capacity in our hospitals? What measures could have been put in place to support staff?
Figures published by the Royal College of Nursing Scotland highlighted the fact that a staggering six in 10 nursing staff in Scotland are thinking about leaving the profession.
Nurses told the RCN that they feel undervalued and poorly paid—at a time when the NHS cannot afford to lose a single member of staff.
The workforce crisis existed before the pandemic. The First Minister cannot stand in the chamber and tell us how many more nurses there are, when there are clearly not enough to meet demand. It is also just a little bit rich, given that, when she was the health minister, she was responsible for cutting the number of nurse training places.
The facts are clear. There is a workforce crisis in our NHS. There is an urgent need to put measures in place to value and retain the existing workforce and to make sure that there is a supply of clinical staff in the future.
The workforce planning strategy has been delayed yet again. What about the Health and Social Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Act 2019, which was passed by this Parliament?
It is all about safe staffing levels, high-quality services and better outcomes for service users—nothing with which anybody in the chamber would disagree.
Nurses – there are clearly not enough to meet demand.
The Government might point to the pandemic, but there is no reason not to implement that legislation now. So far, it has not done that, and it needs to be part of the context for workforce planning.
I turn to social care. The 48p pay rise for social care workers is a slap in the face from the SNP and a stab in the back from the Greens, who, only months ago, promised a £15 per hour wage in their manifesto.
Kate Forbes tells us dismissing the rise as 48p reduces its impact and that it is equivalent to £3,000 per annum if one compares last year’s minimum wage with next year’s £10.50 per hour wage. It is £3,000—a 10.5 per cent increase.
However, the cabinet secretary fails to identify that the workforce is severely low paid, and she wants us to thank the Government for giving those workers a small increase. That simply is not good enough.
We are asking for £12 an hour immediately. We have done the costings and the cabinet secretary knows them. I shared them with her last year and we have shared them with her again this year.
It is doable, if the Government has the political will to do it. However, the SNP coupled with the Greens simply do not.
Delayed discharge from hospital remains a problem, as does dealing with the issues of pay for social care workers.
Delayed discharge removes bed capacity from the national health service. A staggering 650,000 people—one in nine Scots—are now waiting for diagnostic tests and treatment.
I note that the Audit Scotland report found that social care workers—a predominantly low-paid, female workforce—felt that they were neither valued nor rewarded for the work that they do.
That is not me saying that; it is Audit Scotland telling the Government that it is not paying social care workers enough.
The problems in social care are simply not addressed by the budget. Family carers have struggled to cope as care packages have been withdrawn.
Respite care has been cancelled and support has been removed. Urgent action is required to reinstate care across the country, and the budget simply does not provide it.
In our response to the budget, Scottish Labour has set out detailed plans of action that can be taken across the NHS and social care to address those challenges.
Those plans have been informed by talking to those on the front line of health and social care, and they are about supporting and restoring our NHS, improving social care and valuing the staff who are the backbone of both services.
However, I am sorry to say that the Government is simply not listening. The Government is happy to clap for NHS and social care staff on a Thursday, but when it comes to this budget it is simply deaf to their concerns.