The past 18 months have been the most unprecedented time that any of us have ever lived through and in this period we have seen how vital our NHS and social care services are. I am proud to have been appointed as Scottish Labour’s spokesperson for public health and social care in this critical period. Across the United Kingdom, day after day, staff in our NHS and care staff in local authorities have gone above and beyond the call of duty to protect us all. They are truly Covid heroes and we rightly applauded them each Thursday night in the first lockdown.
But applause is not enough – this is a time like no other and collectively we must rise to the challenges that lie before us. We must rebuild and renew with a recovery plan for our NHS and social care that confronts the challenges we have all lived through; which values our hardworking staff; and which fundamentally puts people at its heart.
Before Covid-19 our NHS was struggling – under-resourcing by the Tories and the SNP has led to sustained pressure on services. This has been exacerbated by the pandemic. We love our NHS and the staff who work in it but it is on its knees – doctors and nurses have told me of the stress they feel and why they want to retire or leave their profession. Nurses are burnt out. And carers feel completely undervalued, often leaving the care sector for jobs in hospitality or retail.
That is why Scottish Labour has consistently called, along with the trades unions, for better pay for care workers. Overworked and unappreciated, our Covid heroes were only offered a 20p uplift from the SNP. They deserve an immediate pay rise to at least £12 per hour, rising to £15 per hour in this current parliament.
In the Scottish parliament election, Scottish Labour outlined in our national recovery plan how we would seek to deliver a national care service that goes beyond the lacking proposal set out by the SNP. The NHS was founded by Labour as we rebuilt Britain from the ashes of war, so again must we rebuild from the pandemic with those same values – the principle of care from cradle to grave.
Scottish Labour advocate making social care freely available at the point of need by reversing the recent narrowing of eligibility criteria and removing all non-residential charges. We in Scottish Labour and the Cooperative party will work to create a national care service that prioritises funding and retains local services to ensure that local expertise, accountability and community input are not lost. And we will put workers at the heart – with better pay; improved conditions; and better training and investment, to make clear that care is a valuable and valued career choice – not just ‘another job’.
This vision is in stark contrast to the proposals put forward by the SNP which, at the most basic level, are a reorganisation of the structures of social care. Their plans fail to address the major public spending commitments required to ensure that a national care service can “get it right for everyone”. From the consultation documents the Scottish government has produced, it commits to a large one-off increase in capital funding. While the amount seems impressive, it will mostly be consumed to fulfil the shortfall of £660m that currently exists in Scottish social care. Without sufficient funding, the SNP will not achieve the ambitious change we need. And given their record on funding local authorities to provide care services over their 14 years in power with year-on-year cuts, there are deep concerns about what will be delivered when the bill comes before parliament.
My colleague in Westminster Liz Kendall MP has also highlighted the need to reform social care across England – improving integration, long-term planning for the workforce and a real living wage. We cannot come through the collective trauma of Covid-19 and go back to old ways. It can no longer be acceptable for cuts to care budgets leading to 10-minute care visits to the elderly and most vulnerable; it can no longer be acceptable that care workers do not have access to decent resources to do their job; it can no longer be acceptable that care workers are not paid a decent wage for this vital work we all may one day rely on. As we return to parliament and the bill for a national care service is unveiled in Scotland, we will scrutinise the SNP to ensure that they do right by care workers and people receiving care as well as their families. We will work collaboratively across UK Labour to share ideas and best practice so that we learn and move forward to a better Britain as we recover from Covid-19. Together we will drive forward the change our country needs.