Tomorrow (Tuesday 13 January 2015) the Scottish Parliament will debate protecting public services. UNISON Scotland's briefing to MSP's draws from our recent report 'Austerity Economics Don't Add Up', which charts the impact austerity economics is having on Scotland’s public services and the staff who deliver them. Austerity is damaging people’s lives and health, hitting low-paid women hard, causing misery, risking a lost generation of young people who can’t find work, and creating greater levels of income inequality, which is bad for the economy, for those on the lowest incomes and for society in general.
In addition, we have been undertaking a series of surveys of public service workers in different occupational groups. You can access some of these on our Public Works web page. Our surveys let staff express their concerns about our public services in their own words.
While each group has specific concerns, I have identified some common themes for MSPs. They highlight issues that not everyone thinks about when the impact of cuts are debated:
- The impact of cuts on service delivery and in particular on the most vulnerable in our communities. Social care is a particular concern with a race to the bottom in provision.
- Corners are being cut to give the impression that services are being maintained. Whether its food sampling, inspections, hospital cleaning or the time elderly people are allocated for basic care.
- Core infrastructure is collapsing while staff patch and mend. Sticking plasters won’t last forever.
- Preventative work is being abandoned as staff focus on the basic statutory functions.
- Moving staff around to manage one crisis after another. ‘Keeping the plates spinning’ is a very common comment from staff.
- Growing levels of stress and related health issues. A particular challenge for what is becoming an ageing workforce due to recruitment freezes.
- Delayering of structures results in quite junior staff having to take decisions, without adequate support from more senior and experienced staff.
- Cuts in support staff and administration results in front line staff having to spend more time on paperwork - exacerbated by outdated or inadequate IT systems.
- Increased aggression and violence from service users, frustrated by service cuts and delays.
The importance of the preventative agenda in public service reform was highlighted again today by the Finance Committee. However, in practice it is clear that this is being abandoned by staff who are forced to fall back on reactive solutions.
I hope MSP's will also recognise that there is a better way. Of course the driving force for austerity comes from the UK coalition government, but Holyrood doesn't always make good choices. What is needed is the political will to challenge the view that austerity is necessary and to put in place better policies that deliver for all our communities.