The cost of care - who is really paying for Scotland’s social care system?

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Martin Johnstone argues that failing to fund social care organisations to pay the Scottish Living Wage is a moral failure for the care of our most vulnerable citizens

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9th November 2018 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

The old adage that work is the best route out of poverty, which was never entirely accurate, is increasingly hollow. In 1994, 35% of those living in poverty were in working households. Today the figure is 60%.

It is now a well-established fact that in most households struggling against poverty someone is in paid employment. However, that work is irregular, has poor conditions and is badly paid.

That is why the National Minimum Wage and then, as that failed to keep pace with cost of living increases, the Scottish Living Wage are so important and why those who have led these movements over the last number of years are to be warmly congratulated.

Martin Johnstone

Martin Johnstone

However, despite the progress, all is not well. We need to get beyond the rhetoric and into the murky details. For many of us it has been clear for several years that the social care sector is struggling to pay the living wage. This is not because care providers do not want to but, quite simply, because they do not have the money to do so.

This is work which shows love, compassion and care. We cannot put a price on such things, but we should at least be paying wages which demonstrate that they matter.

Recent research highlights that settlements across different local authority areas are varied but the overall picture is similar; where the Scottish Living Wage is being implemented it is as a result of care providers digging into their own pockets or receiving other sources of charitable funding. We need to recognise that this is not sustainable and that a crisis is coming. It is, in fact, already here.

If, as a sector, we believe in the justice of the Scottish Living Wage, we need to put increased pressure on governments (both local authorities and the Scottish Government) to ensure a consistency that is not only aspirational but achievable. This is not just a struggle for those who provide social care but for all who believe in social justice.

This matter, however, goes beyond a debate about the effective implementation of the living wage and into the territory of what we really value. The reality is that the level of wages for ancillary and support staff within the social care sector is shockingly low. As the great majority of these are women, this is a critical matter of gender justice.

It is also an indication that we do not, as a society, really value (at least in economic terms) the work of those who care for some of our most vulnerable citizens in practical, compassionate, down-to-earth ways: helping them to eat, to wash, to go to the toilet. This is work which, when done well (and it is overwhelmingly well done) shows love, compassion and care. We cannot put a price on such things, but we should at least be paying wages which demonstrate that they matter. We should not be complicit in a system that forces those who carry out such tasks to be living in poverty. We should be willing to pay for it – to pay for what and who really matter.

When the time comes, hopefully a long time away, when I need someone to care for my deepest and most personal needs (and my family are no longer able to do so), I hope that those who do so will not only care but will be paid decently for that compassion.

Martin Johnstone is secretary of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, a role he combines with supporting a network of Poverty Truth Commissions across the UK.