Clash over cash for carers – Labour’s Jackie Baillie and SNP Minister Kevin Stewart.
By Bill Heaney
Dumbarton, Helensburgh and Vale of Leven MSP Jackie Baillie made a special plea to the SNP/Green government to support carers during the cost of living crisis.
Ms Baillie, who also represents Lomond North and South, told MSPs: “There is no doubt that we face a cost of living crisis the likes of which we have not experienced in a generation. Inflation has risen to 9 per cent during the past six months and will be at least 10 per cent by the end of the year. Economists are forecasting a recession: things are tough, and they are going to get tougher.
“During the pandemic, unpaid carers and social care workers stepped up to the plate. They shouldered an enormous burden as they kept loved ones safe, and they still carry that responsibility because services have not fully resumed. Pre-pandemic, too many carers experienced poverty and the problem is now much worse.
“Carers Scotland found that more than half of unpaid carers are currently unable to afford their monthly expenses, and that their financial situations have worsened during the past six months. Carers have also seen increases in the costs of products and services that they need for the people for whom they care. Everything has gone up, from personal protective equipment to incontinence pads to medical equipment.
“Among carers, 87 per cent think that they will not be able to heat their home to a safe level, 41 per cent are worried that they will have to use a food bank, and the overwhelming majority are worried about the impact on their mental and physical health from the additional stress and anxiety that the cost of living crisis is causing.
“If we value carers, as we say we do, we must not allow that to continue. The time to act is now. It is no longer good enough for the Scottish Government to simply blame the United Kingdom Tory Government and wring its hands; the Scottish Government also has a responsibility to act.
“I talked to carers from across Scotland, who said: ‘Crumbs on the table are no longer enough. Unpaid carers save the Government £43 million a day and without us, the system would collapse. The Carer’s allowance supplement is wiped out by hidden costs like laundry, and there is no recognition of this. We are constantly having to fight, and this must stop’.
“Scottish Labour has set out many times the actions that the Scottish National Party Government can take. First, ending non-residential care charges—which both Scottish Labour and the SNP committed to in their manifestos—should be done now. That will make an instant difference to the amount of money that people have in their pockets.
“Secondly, the Government should increase access to the welfare fund for unpaid carers, and make caring responsibilities a qualifying criterion for grants.
“Thirdly, the Government should keep the carers allowance supplement at the enhanced rate. It should also, in order to meet the increased costs of energy, develop additional financial support for households that include disabled people and carers because energy costs are higher for them than they are for the general population.
“Finally, the Government should implement a strategy for unpaid carers. I know that one is coming, but please let it include action on poverty and the restoration and expansion of respite services, with entitlement to short breaks and well-being services.
We have suggested five simple things that the Scottish Government can do now, if it wants to. It has the power to act; the responsibility lies with it.
“Let me turn to social care staff. I met Shona, Samantha, Shirley and Val this morning—they are care workers from around Scotland—and they said:
“We are so understaffed that we have to cover between 10 and 12 extra visits per week. We work in partnership with the NHS and care for the same clients, so we simply do not understand why we are treated differently. We are being asked to pay huge amounts on fuel, and there is no support in place for us.”
Ms Baillie added: “Some care workers in my constituency are subsidising their employers. They work in the private sector and they get 25 pence per mile. The cost of petrol has sky-rocketed, so in visiting their clients they spend more than they are reimbursed.
“Although NHS staff have rightly received a 5p per mile increase in the mileage rate allowance from the Government—which I welcome—social care staff have been left behind once again. We must also remember that the starting position of most NHS staff is 45p per mile, whereas the amount for some people in the care sector is 25p per mile.
“My question to the Government is this: why does it persist in treating social care workers as second-class citizens? They deserve parity of esteem; they deserve the same financial recompense for caring for people.
“It was only six months ago that the SNP and Greens rejected Scottish Labour’s calls to deliver an immediate pay rise to £12 per hour for social care staff, moving to £15 per hour the following year. Instead, they opted for a measly 48p pay increase.
“We must remember that we are talking about a predominantly female workforce that is low paid. The SNP has paid lip service to them. It cannot be right that retail and hospitality jobs pay so much more than social care jobs.
They did it for the greenbacks – Scottish Green Ministers Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater.
“Of course, the Greens [Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater] used to believe that social care workers deserved £15 per hour, but their principles went out the window for a ministerial Mondeo and a £31,383 pay rise for each of the two Green ministers. That is more than a care worker earns in a year. That is shameful.
“Social care staff are not immune to the cost of living crisis. We should be exploring every opportunity to help them and to retain their skills in the sector. Another suggestion, which was made by the trade unions, is that the Government pay workers’ Scottish Social Services Council registration fees. That would be a small but important gesture.
“None of that should be a surprise to the SNP Government. It does not need to spend months and years deliberating over what to do and it does not need to blame someone else. It can act: it has the power to make a difference and carers need it to do so now.”
Jackie Baillie moved that “the Parliament is concerned by the escalating pressures that the cost of living crisis is putting on both the social care workforce and unpaid carers across Scotland, the majority of whom are women; recognises that poor pay and working practices in social care have been increasingly exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic and have created a recruitment crisis; notes that the rise in fuel prices is impacting on the ability of care workers to visit the people they support; calls on the Scottish Government to immediately end all non-residential care charges and implement a strategy for unpaid carers, which includes the restoration and expansion of respite services, with entitlements to short breaks and well-being services, and resolves that the mileage reimbursement rate for care workers is increased by five pence per mile, as agreed for NHS workers.”
The SNP Minister for Mental Well-being and Social Care, Kevin Stewart, responded by blaming the Tories: “I thank carers—paid and unpaid—for their remarkable work in providing critical and invaluable support to people across Scotland.
“The Tory cost of living crisis has an impact on everyone in Scotland, including on the social care workforce and unpaid carers. The Scottish Government has already committed to increasing spend in social care by 25 per cent by the end of the current session of Parliament, in order to help to lay the groundwork for the establishment of a national care service.
“We will take forward the ambitious reforms, but we do not want to wait for the NCS to come into being before we take action. This year, funding of £846.6 million will be transferred from the health portfolio to local authorities for a range of investments in health, social care and mental health services.
“We want, through working in collaboration with our partners, to see improvements in recruitment and retention, fair work and ethical commissioning. We are fully committed to improving the experience of the social care workforce, including by increasing levels of pay, because we recognise and value the work that those staff do.”
He added: “From April, we have provided funding of £200 million to local government to support investment in health and social care, embed improved pay and conditions and deliver a £10.50 per hour minimum wage for all adult social care staff in commissioned services from 1 April 2022. I remind members that that is more than social care staff are paid south of the border and in Labour-controlled Wales. That represents an increase of 12.9 per cent over the year.”
Labour MSP Pam Duncan-Glancy asked Mr Stewart: “What would the minister say to the 51 per cent of local authority staff who earn below £25,000 a year and for whom the figure for a pay increase that is on the table is only 2 per cent? Many of those staff are social carers.”
Kevin Stewart replied: “I say to everyone right across the country that at this moment we require an emergency budget from the Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer to address the cost of living crisis. That is what we need.
“I would like this Parliament to have all the levers of power to enable it to deal with such things, but we do not—which is something that Labour members do not acknowledge. The UK Government giving us powers over employment law is one thing that would be very helpful indeed.
“We are also working with the fair work in social care group, which has developed a set of recommendations for minimum standards for terms and conditions that reflect fair work principles.
“An ethical approach to commissioning and, as a consequence, to any procurement of care and support will have massive benefits for staff and supported people alike. There have been some gains already from early adopters in local government, but that approach must be extended and enhanced.
“In relation to increasing fuel costs, the Scottish Government does not set the mileage rates that are paid to social care staff; those are agreed by their employers—1,200 individual employers, as I have told the chamber before.
“The Scottish Government is committed to abolishing charges for non-residential social care and support, so that provision of those services is based on a person’s need and not their ability to pay. We are working with stakeholders to develop options to achieve that as soon as is practicable.”