Megan Fisher | GMB Scotland Assistant Organiser, Women’s Campaign Unit.
Before the emergence of COVID-19 and the government lock-down, it was widely recognised that there was something seriously wrong with Scotland’s social care system. Social care in Scotland faces a “fundamental crisis”, experts warned after a Care Inspectorate report in 2017 found more than a third of care services had unfilled staff vacancies the previous year (Care Inspectorate, 2017).
This against forecasts showing not only increasing demand for adult social care services in Scotland, but also an increased demand from people with more complex care needs (Audit Scotland, 2016, 2018; Public Health Scotland, 2018). The crisis in Scotland’s adult social care system is underpinned by a workforce that are some of the lowest paid workers in Scotland. Many earn less than £10 per hour. The vast majority, 83%, are women. Most have unpaid caring responsibilities out with their work.
The emergence of COVID-19 and its consequences have shone a blinding light onto Scotland’s social care system. Following the announcement of government lockdown measures in March 2020, in order to increase NHS bed capacity, nearly 1,000 hospital patients in Scotland were discharged directly to care homes – without being tested for the virus. The announcement of a policy to test all hospital patients twice before discharge to care homes was made on 22nd April 2020. In some cases, it took weeks for care workers to receive basic PPE. This only happened because thousands of care workers spoke out, writing directly to the First Minister.
In the week ending 19th April 2020, almost half, 46% of all COVID-19 deaths in Scotland were in care homes. On June 3rd 2020, National Records of Scotland (NRS) announced the statistic that more people had died of COVID-19 in Scotland’s care homes than in the country’s hospitals. NRS recorded 1,818 deaths linked to the virus in Scotland’s care homes since the outbreak began (National Records of Scotland, Show You Care – Executive Summary 2 June 2020).
This was the very group of vulnerable people that government measures were supposed to protect from the virus. Estimates as of 11th June 2020, were that only around one quarter of care home staff in Scotland had received testing for COVID-19. Only on 25th June 2020 were social care workers finally afforded proper sick pay. GMB Scotland’s surveying of its social care membership found that over 75% of workers were scared to be tested for fear of testing positive and having to be off work, in receipt of only statutory sick pay of less than £96 a week. The level of financial detriment that workers were being left in was fundamentally undermining the testing regime and exposes a lack of coherent planning.
Scotland’s social care workers have shown their skills and bravery during the COVID-19 crisis. Yet these skilled workers remain undervalued and underpaid. The average hourly rate of pay of the over 1600 who participated in our questionnaire survey was £10.64 an hour. The average hourly wage in the UK is £14.80 (Statista, 2019). GMB believes that there needs to be a minimum care wage of £15 per hour.
GMB also believes that we need uniformity of terms and conditions across Scotland which include, but are not limited to, protection for council staff on better conditions, permanent and full-time contracts where desired, flexible working arrangements, good pension contributions and drive for workers to join the pension scheme, better staff ratios, an equality proof job evaluation scheme, permanent full sick pay across the entire sector. Scotland should also establish an independent National Care Service which recognises trade unions and national collective bargaining. This should involve discussions on the future role of the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) and the Care Inspectorate; this would include options for progression if desired. The Scottish Government should also ensure trade unions are included throughout all aspects of development and implementation of changes in the social care sector. Social care workers have highlighted frequent changes to their contracts, sometimes without any notification from their employers. Low pay and workers’ contractual rights must be improved if we are to solve Scottish social care’s recruitment and retention problem.
Social care workers need time to deliver dignified and compassionate care. Two of the five standards the Scottish government cites as key components when delivering health and social care are dignity and compassion (Scottish Government, 2018). Social care workers desperately want more time to deliver dignified and compassionate care continuously. Service users certainly deserve this. Put simply, social care workers are looking after too many service users with not enough time allocated to their often complex care needs. The reason? Understaffing and high staff turnover. Add to that the high levels of sickness due to the stresses involved in delivering social care – “always up against the clock” – as one social care worker put it, and one understands the barriers to providing quality social care.
So the Scottish Government should set a figure for improved investment in Scotland’s social care sector. Any future commissioning to be driven not by profit but in order to ensure a high quality of care, delivered by a professional and properly valued and rewarded workforce.
A valued social care workforce should be rewarded in their pay and terms and conditions for the amazing job they do. This would also make a statement about how Scotland views the rights of low paid women and the importance of gender equality in the workforce and wider Scottish society.
This is an extract from GMB’s Show You Care Executive Summary, which can be read in full here.