September 21, 2023
4 Steps Guest Blog: “Delaying a pay increase means the people we support, our colleagues and the Scottish Government all lose out”
The First Minister’s pledge of £12 from next April fails to address a deepening crisis, argues Karen Sheridan, Chief Operating Officer of Community Integrated Care and CCPS Board member
Having worked in the social care sector for almost 23 years, I despair that we are still fighting for the recognition the sector deserves. This is a sector that stands tall and proud supporting the those that need it most in society, despite what can only be described as a broken and desperate system. A workforce that turns out no matter what, seemingly still awaiting proper recognition from the Scottish Government in terms of meaningful commitments and action.
While that sounds strong, it is based on constant frustration and desperation as we continue to fight for the rights of our workers who are quite frankly undervalued, underpaid and – despite all our efforts – still not recognised for the complex jobs they hold. Roles that are technically, emotionally, and physically challenging. Roles that demand the best of people to deliver crucial frontline services in our communities. Roles that support and care for people in their most challenging times.
Now don’t be mistaken: by ‘frontline’ I don’t mean just Support Workers, I mean the army of brilliance beside them every day – our leaders, specialists in recruitment and quality, our cleaners and facilities, and many more! Our sector is built on professional and dedicated teams, yet our government continues to deny fair and equitable pay for carers and repeatedly ignores the value of those who stand alongside them to keep our social care services running.
Community Integrated Care’s Unfair To Care report proves that social care is demonstrably undervalued. The publication shows that, in Scotland, despite the government’s commitment to improving social care, we still see significant gaps between Support Worker pay and roles of equivalent size in the NHS and public sector – a staggering 21%, or £4,330 when compared with the NHS Band 3 Worker. This difference is being felt deeply by many during the cost-of-living crisis. It is is not only an injustice for the talented people who deliver an essential service to society, but also for people who draw upon care. Having stable, reliable, relationship-focused support is fundamental to leading a life of independence.
We do not begrudge our health colleagues such a pay scale – we applaud their ability to secure these terms. It’s a good deal which is deserved. However, it would be remiss not to draw the comparison and highlight how the difference in employer seemingly allows a position that diminishes the role of our colleagues in social care, allowing such an injustice in relation to fair and equitable pay for roles which are so stark in their similarities. It would be cynical not to suggest that the structural differences and dispersed nature of our sector makes it easier to ignore our calls in a way that couldn’t with other large statutory organisations.
I have mentioned that our social care workforce is demonstrably technical, accountable, and skilled but it is a point worth mentioning twice. Our sector offers uniquely rewarding vocational experiences for people who are passionate about connecting with others. Sadly, despite this, far too many are finding that social care cannot be a long-term career for them. There is a moral and economic imperative for the government to change this by working directly with the sector, and those who draw on support, to create a workforce plan that ensures social care can become a valued profession. An equitable and fair pay framework must be applied as a priority. Without this equality with partners, we will never achieve the balance needed for a fully-functioning, stable, and sustainable health and social care system.
Our polling with Ipsos illustrates that 91% of the public believes that social care is important to society. Our sector contributes more than £60 billion to the UK every year. The pay gap presents a false economy and moral injustice that can and must be changed. It masks the costs of agency work premiums, the economic impact of families exiting employment to provide care for loved ones, and the resource wasted on managing a constant churn of talent. These figures point to thousands of lives being constrained by low pay or inconsistent and unavailable support.
Our First Minister recently announced in the 2023-24 Programme for Government that social care staff rates of pay would be increased to £12 per hour from April 2024. Was this welcome? Of course. But since that poignant moment of disclosure the announcement seems to be shrouded in some confusion and weeks on, we are still seeking the clarity on what it really meant.
Community Integrated Care supports CCPS 4 Steps Campaign, and we stand with our colleagues across the sector in this call to action. The First Minister’s announcement is welcome, but it fails to address the deepening crisis in the social care sector. Delaying a pay increase undermines staff morale as it simply doesn’t demonstrate value or recognition for the life-changing work they do every day. In short, the delay will only serve to prolong a cost-of-living crisis that would undoubtedly be at a cost to the sector and those who rely on our support as our workforce are forced to look for better paid opportunities just so they can afford to live. Make no mistake: every vacancy represents a life impacted!
Frankly, nobody wins in this scenario – not the people we support, our colleagues or the Scottish Government. We call on the government to listen to the thousands calling for change and do the right thing!