A fundamental purpose of any government is to make choices about the allocation of funds. No government – whether in good financial times or bad – has enough money to do everything. So, politicians must choose on the basis of the priorities they have set.
For social care, this is where it gets really interesting. Particularly when you consider that the direct value placed on staff is set by the Scottish Government, who fund the base pay-rates for not-for-profit social care and support provider organisations.
So, let’s look at the trajectory of the choices made by the Scottish Government to value our part of the social care sector – not-for-profit providers of contracted public service.
In early 2019, the Scottish Government accepted the recommendations of the Fair Work in Social Care Report. And back then the difference between the salary of a Band 3 support worker starting in the NHS and the equivalent role in a third sector social care organisation was about 7%. By April 2023, that gap had risen to around 18%. The inequity in the health and social care sector – despite warm words and commitments – has markedly increased.
For a brief 6 months in 2022, the Scottish Government made a first, and welcome, step towards parity in financial reward. It set an hourly base rate for registered adult social care workers which was over 5% higher than the Real Living Wage, the amount needed to meet everyday needs. We were hopeful that this was the beginning of change.
Then in December 2022, John Swinney announced the 23/24 budget – and a £10.90 hourly base rate that did no more than match the RLW announcement. Any gain for our members’ staff in recognition of equal value was lost overnight.
Since that moment, CCPS has been calling for this to be reversed. Our #4StepsToFairWork campaign asked for a pay award of £12ph, to be backdated to April 23, to be distributed fairly… and importantly to be accompanied by a plan for parity.
We have had many members and partners speak out in support of #4StepsToFairWork – the calls have been unanimous. But repeatedly we have been told by Scottish Government there is no money left in the government’s largest budget (health and social care). We have often been told this in the same week that cash was suddenly found for NHS and local government staff threatening strike action.
Let me be clear here: I do not begrudge well deserved pay rises for other staff delivering key public services. I do object to staff in our sector being told there is no money to improve deep pay inequity when the truth is that money can be found when political backs are against a wall. Allocation choices were made – and these were to the long-term detriment of our sector.
But then, when our new First Minister (FM) gave his first speech to the Scottish Parliament he did two important things.
First, he stated the priorities against which all his choices would be made: Community, equality and opportunity. We saw a glimmer of hope. If those words do not describe social care, I do not know what does.
Second, he announced a commitment to pay £12ph, but crucially gave no date for implementation. We continued to call for £12ph to be paid now and backdated to April 2023. And in September’s Programme for Government the FM announced that indeed £12ph would be paid – and importantly to both adult and children’s social care staff – but only from April 2024. A year late. Our members were deeply disappointed and very angry.
Right now, we are awaiting the announcement of the RLW rate for 2024-25. There is every possibility that it will be higher than £12. Even at £12, the government announcement on pay means our sector treads water, despite the 2019 commitment to Fair Work and the looming 2025 Fair Work Nation deadline.
CCPS is clear. The Scottish Government’s choice to pay £12 per hour in April next year is far too little, far too late to stem the deep recruitment crisis affecting the stability of our member organisations and the crucial public services which people in our communities rely on them to provide.
We have also seen no timetable or clear plan to address the inequity in our sector – inequity that was so clearly expressed by the Fair Work Convention report.
And, despite the fact the Convention’s report focused on the importance of effective voice, four years later pay awards are centrally imposed without genuine dialogue and in the face of clear representation from our sector on the negative impact of decisions to depress wages on people in need.
Choice is both a fundamental principle of social care and support and a key responsibility of government. For the sake of our under-valued (and largely female) workforce and to uphold the chance of community, equality and opportunity for people who need care and support to thrive, it really is time for the Scottish Government to make some different choices.