The festive season is traditionally a time for visiting relatives and thinking of those less fortunate than ourselves, writes Kenryck Lloyd-Jones.
That’s why many of us try to call in on an elderly frail neighbour over the holiday period. A chat and a cup of tea, or an offer to pick up some shopping, can make a world of difference.
For many frail older people, Christmas can be a lonely time when the only people they speak with will be their care workers, who provide such a valuable service all year round. And social care is an essential service in this regard. No-one likes to work on the Christmas bank holidays, but like many health and social care professionals, care workers will be visiting older people near all of us over Christmas and the New Year. Anyone who has received their support, or who has a family member receive their care will know how indispensible their services are when needed.
In spite of their crucial role in communities, care workers are often undervalued. Many struggle on low wages and poor terms and conditions, and even zero hours contracts where even long travelling time between clients across rural communities isn’t properly paid.
That’s why Scottish Labour has a policy to guarantee all care workers a real living wage, with paid travel costs and minimum hours, whether in the public or private sector. Shortly before Christmas, Scottish Labour introduced a motion to the Scottish Parliament to pay care workers a decent wage. Unfortunately the SNP voted against the motion.
A living wage for care workers is the kind of investment we need. Care workers aren’t just providing essential services to the people they support. They are also serving our health services, by keeping people healthy, preventing hospital admissions, and ensuring people can leave hospital and return home as soon as possible. This not only helps people needing care, but also relieves pressure on the NHS.
But just at a time when we need to be investing in community services, local councils are facing massive cuts to their budgets. The SNP government budget this month shocked everyone with the scale of cuts to local authorities, amounting to over £350million for councils. Even with an increase in overall government funding available, local councils have been hit hard. It will cost thousands of jobs across South Scotland. Scottish Border Council now faces a cut of over £7million to spending which will have a severe impact on services.
Scottish Ministers have refused to increase taxes on millionaires, but slash council funding affecting services to the disabled and frail elderly. But Scottish Labour has a plan to use the new tax raising powers to make Scotland fairer, and give care workers a fairer deal too.
So we won’t be giving up. Investing for the future means making sure that more people see social care as a career choice, and a job that people see for the longer term. If that is to happen, we need to ensure better pay, better terms and conditions and a wider recognition of the value of care work.
Kenryck Lloyd-Jones is the Scottish Labour candidate for South Scotland.