By Bill Heaney

NHS staff are convinced that many of the problems they are being faced with during the current crisis are because of the on-going crisis in social care – low wages and staffing problems.

Labour leader Anas Sarwar told Nicola Sturgeon the Scottish Parliament on Thursday that he had met the day before with front-line social care workers and their trade unions to discuss the state of the sector in Scotland.

“They told me about the burnout that has been experienced by their colleagues, their fears about the levels of care that are being offered and their inability to provide care to those who need it.

“The workers and experts were clear that the problem has been more than a decade in the making and is a direct result of decisions by this Government.

“They told me that many of their colleagues have quit or retired early because of the pressures of the job, and they say that the pay does not reward their hard work or reflect the importance of their role in society.”

He asked the First Minister to agree with him, but she said: “I value those who work in our social care sector, and I agree that the work that they do has traditionally—not just in Scotland but in many places—been undervalued. That is what we seek to change and address.

“I also agree that some of the pressures in acute and emergency care, and some of the pressures in our hospitals, could be alleviated by reform and by increasing further the capacity in social care, which is why so much of what we speak about is directed at exactly that.

“That is why, for example, just last week, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care [Humza Yousaf] announced additional funding to secure additional interim care home beds; £1.7 billion has been provided for social care and integration in the past year; and we are progressing our commitment to increasing spend on social care by 25 per cent by the end of this parliamentary session—which, of course, will be an increase of more than £840 million. We continue to take such actions.

In relation to wages, we are providing £100 million of additional funding to uplift pay from April this year, having already increased it. We will continue to do that so that our social care workers get the value, not just in our rhetoric but in their pay packets, that they so richly deserve.”

Mr Sarwar hit back: “It is important to note that the proposals that the First Minister has just outlined have been widely criticised by front-line staff as being nowhere near enough to meet the demands of the crisis that we face.

“The First Minister should not ignore the facts. Social care staff will be paid £10.90 an hour, which represents a 3.8 per cent pay increase—that is, 40p—at a time when inflation is running at 9 per cent and NHS staff are being offered, on average, an increase of 7.5 per cent.

“That is in the context of a First Minister who said that she would reward social care staff who put their lives on the line to get us through the pandemic.

“However, in a cost of living crisis, 40p more does not feel like much of a reward to those workers, and it will not address the on-going workforce crisis.

“Why can the First Minister not see that there is no solution to the NHS crisis without a solution to the social care crisis?

“Seventy-one per cent of care-at-home services are reporting vacancies, as are 75 per cent of care homes. Yesterday, we heard that staff are leaving to work in Sainsbury’s, Costa and Lidl, because they can get better pay and better conditions there.

“Will the First Minister finally commit to an immediate pay increase to £12 an hour, rising to £15 an hour, for social care workers across Scotland?”

Ms Sturgeon replied: “Those are serious issues, and we take them seriously. However, it is important that we can fund the decisions that we take. 

“Over the past two years, there has been a 14.7 per cent increase in pay for social care workers. Pay has increased from £9.50 an hour in April 2021 to £10.90 an hour from April this year. For a full-time adult social care worker, that increase represents an uplift of more than £780 over the course of this financial year.

“I want us to go further, and we intend to go further, but we have to be able to fund that. Labour is asking us to increase pay to £15 an hour for all social care workers.

“I understand why people want that to happen, but it would cost up to an additional £1.75 billion. Labour has not set out how it would fund that or what it proposes to cut as a consequence.

“Yes, we want to see pay increase further, but we have to do that in a properly funded way. That is responsible government.”

Anas Sarwar told her: “I will tell the First Minister what is derisory. Derisory is giving a 3.8 per cent pay increase to front-line workers when inflation is running at 9 per cent. That is what is derisory and is causing the social care crisis.

“You ask where the money would come from. This Government’s failure to eliminate delayed discharge is costing at least £150 million a year. Its national care service is estimated to cost £1.3 billion—the money that will be spent on set-up and administration should be spent on front-line services to address the current crisis.

“Organisations that, like Scottish Labour, support a national care service are calling on the Scottish National Party to pause the National Care Service (Scotland) Bill.

“Those organisations include the GMB, Unison, Unite the union, Social Work Scotland, Scottish Care, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Trades Union Congress. The GMB told the Parliament that social care staff are ‘broken and exhausted’.”

The union said “now we are giving them a … bill that does not give them any job security, any value or any feeling of worth … We want reform—we want to make social care better”.

What they are being offered right now is “nowhere near good enough”, said Mr Sarwar.

“Will the First Minister finally listen to workers on the front line, pause this flawed bill and put the money where it needs to be, so that we can actually confront the NHS and social care crisis?”

Nicola Sturgeon told him: “Parliament is scrutinising the bill, and that process of scrutiny is important. However, fair work and sectoral bargaining are at the very heart of those reform proposals.

“Calling for a reform that is due to be implemented in future years in order to fund a pay increase in this financial year is an example of the completely irresponsible and incoherent approach that Labour takes to budgeting.

“That is not how budgeting works. By all means, let us continue to scrutinise the national care service legislation, but do not mislead people into thinking that, if we just stopped the bill, we would suddenly free up money now for pay increases. It simply does not work that way.

“There has been a 14.7 per cent pay increase for social care workers in the past two years, and we want to go further.

“For NHS workers, the offer this year is 7.5 per cent on average, compared with 4.5 per cent where Labour is in government in these islands.

“Our actions demonstrate the value that we place on those workers. Within our budgets, we will continue to prioritise that, but we will do that in a responsible and deliverable way, in stark contrast with Labour.”

Top picture: Crosslet care home in Dumbarton where staff are overworked and underpaid, according to Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar.

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