Raising social care standards is good for workers and the people they care for.
Today, I was at North Ayrshire Council, the latest employer in Scotland to sign up to UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter. The charter commits employers to a range of Fair Work principles including; the Scottish Living Wage, travelling time, sick pay and stable employment contracts. That’s good for workers, but it’s also good for service users, because the Charter provides for proper training and time to care, based on client need.
The Ethical Care Charter was developed by UNISON at UK Level in 2012, following a survey into the working conditions of homecare workers across the UK and production of a subsequent report, “Time to Care”. The survey responses showed “a committed but poorly paid and treated workforce which is doing its best to maintain good levels of quality care in a system that is in crisis”. The comments from workers illustrated the correlation between poor terms and conditions and lower standards of care for the clients they served.
UNISON Scotland surveyed Scottish homecare workers and published its own report entitled, ‘Scotland: It’s time to Care’ in February 2014. We followed that up with another survey ‘We Care Do You?’ in July last year. Both surveys painted a grim picture of social care in Scotland with the majority of workers indicating that the service was not sufficient to meet the needs of the elderly and vulnerable people they cared for. In particular, they didn’t have enough time to properly address people’s needs, with budget cuts and outsourcing putting an emphasis on quantity over quality.
The race to the bottom in social care has primarily been driven by budget cuts to councils. That neglect is now being addressed through additional funding, which should at least ensure that the living wage is paid, even if funding falls short of ensuring time to care. In part, the change has been driven by a belated recognition of the impact cutting social care is having on the NHS, with hospital beds being filled by patients who should be cared for in a community setting.
Councils who sign up to the Ethical Care Charter are showing just the sort of political leadership we need in Scotland on this crucial issue. We expect seven councils will have signed up by the end of this month – leaving plenty of room for others.
Raising employment standards will help to address the high turnover of staff in the sector, providing some much needed continuity of care. Elderly and vulnerable people in Scotland deserve the highest care standards we can provide.