Welcome to my Blog

I am a semi-retired former Scottish trade union policy wonk, now working on a range of projects. All views are my own, not any of the organisations I work with. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Friday, 24 July 2020

More lessons from the pandemic - Scottish Care Service

Today, the Jimmy Reid Foundation has published the second in their series of papers on 'Reconstructing Scotland after COVID-19'. As with the first paper, they seek to put forward policies that are especially relevant to the impact of the pandemic and the way existing state and society have responded. This paper has five sections that examine public ownership, social care, education, employment relations law, and union membership.

Professor Andy Cumbers highlights how the pandemic has brought home the abject failures of the UK’s private, market-based economic model. This has been recognised in recent polling, which shows growing support for public ownership during the pandemic. He sets out five important principles for a better run system of publicly-owned and controlled services, building on the ideas in his recent book, 'Reclaiming Public ownership: Making Space for Economic Democracy', which I reviewed in May. 

The EIS general secretary, Larry Flanagan, argues that the impact of Covid 19 has laid bare the fault lines in our society around inequality and poverty, with those children already suffering from disadvantage having that divide deepened. If tackling the attainment gap is really a Scottish Government priority, he asks, "Why aren’t we employing every qualified teacher in the country so that we can cut class sizes to provide more individual support; why aren’t we enlisting an army of support staff to provide additional support; why aren’t we paying retired teachers to act as mentors and tutors to disadvantaged pupils?"

Stephen Deans from Unite makes the case for a new economy built on the promotion of collective bargaining and strong social safety nets so that nobody falls through the cracks and everyone is properly valued. While the Fair Work initiative has helped, this largely voluntary process lacks teeth and relies too much on employer goodwill. He argues that all aspects of employment law, including health and safety, should be devolved. 

Professor Gregor Gall highlights the significant growth in union membership before the pandemic and the growth in some sectors during the crisis. However, he recognises that unemployment in other sectors will act as a levelling point. He highlights the proposals in the IER 'Manifesto for Labour Law', which would assist union recruitment and strengthen collective bargaining.

My own contribution covers the crisis in social care and the growing support for a National or Scottish Care Service. This is not a social care version of the NHS. Instead, it should be a national framework approach that ends the current marketisation of social care. It could set consistent standards, contracts and charges for services not covered by free personal care. Most importantly, it would include a statutory workforce forum to set minimum terms and conditions, organise effective workforce planning and put a new focus on training and professionalism.

While there is a broad consensus on the concept there are still a number of issues that require more work. I outline these in the paper, including the governance model, local democratic accountability, staffing integration, common ownership, and of course funding. The creation of a Scottish Care Service is an idea which has come of age during the pandemic. Turning it from a concept into a practical solution requires more work and some difficult conversations. If we are to ‘Build Back Better', an integrated health and care service, with national standards and local delivery should be the highest priority.