Calls for new body to oversee fairness in Scotland’s social care sector wins Green backing


Independent review advocates a minimum Fair Work contract for social care

  • Review from Scotland’s Fair Work Convention published today aims to address “the lack of effective voice” for social care workers
  • Social care workers often face zero hours contracts and have to work unpaid overtime
  • New social care body could develop a bargaining role for the whole sector
  • Scottish Government will “carefully consider” recommendations, while Green MSP Alison Johnstone calls for social care workers to have a “a greater voice”

A NEW body should be created to ensure fair work in Scotland’s social care sector and address care workers’ current poor conditions and lack of influence, an independent review has recommended.

In its newly published report ‘Fair Work in Scotland’s Social Care Sector 2019’, Scotland’s Fair Work Convention has called for urgent interventions by relevant policy makers, commissioners and leaders in the social care sector to reform employment and conditions for Scotland’s 200,000-strong social care workforce, with a new sector body establishing minimum standards for fair work being the primary goal.

This follows an 18-month inquiry by the Fair Work Convention into the work and employment experiences of frontline workers, personal assistants and employers across the Scottish care sector, as well as engagement with experts and stakeholders.

Chief among the inquiry’s findings were that the Scottish social care sector is not consistently delivering fair work; that the current funding and commissioning systems are making it difficult for some providers to offer fair work; and that the social care workforce does not at present enjoy mechanisms that would give workers an effective voice in influencing work and employment in the sector.

The report also highlights the common failure to address issues such as low pay and ‘voice deficit’ in a sector which predominately employs women – two factors the inquiry found have significantly contributed to women’s poorer quality of work and the national gender pay gap.

“ All too often non-unionised, low paid workers can be overlooked when policy is being developed, despite having substantial skills and expertise to offer.” Scottish Green health spokesperson Alison Johnstone MSP

Across the entire sector, the report also details how, due to a lack of secure employment, some social care workers are expected to work excessive hours in order to achieve the equivalent of a fair wage. Many other workers in the sector face zero hour, sessional contracts and are forced to work beyond contracted hours and into unpaid overtime in order to meet the needs of social care service users.

The new body recommended by the Convention should, as an immediate priority, establish a Fair Work contract for social care, with a view to developing a bargaining role for all workers in the sector, as well as playing a role in designing and developing services, training and other necessary strategies going forward.

Commenting on the publication of their recommendations, Co-chair of the Fair Work Convention, Professor Patricia Findlay of Strathclyde University, said: “Enhancing fair work for social care workers is crucial to ensuring that some of our most vulnerable citizens receive a high quality of care. It is concerning to see that this is not currently being realised, mainly due to issues caused by existing funding and commissioning systems, and the lack of effective voice for workers.

“The findings highlight the urgent need for policy makers, commissioners and leaders in the social care sector to work together to set minimum fair work standards for the social care workforce; and provide the opportunity for ongoing dialogue and agreement on workforce matters.”

READ MORE: 3 in 4 carers in Scotland have suffered mental ill health, new research finds

The new report was enthusiastically welcomed by Scottish Green health spokesperson Alison Johnstone MSP, who called on the Scottish Government to accept the Convention’s recommendations in full.

Johnstone said: “I welcome the publication of the fair work review which seeks to recognise the importance of social care and the need to treat workers with dignity and respect. People who care are often undervalued and underpaid. Social care workers do hard and vital work in people’s homes and care homes throughout our communities, but it remains one of the lowest paid sectors, fuelling the gender pay gap.

“I particularly welcome the call for carers to have a greater voice in the design, development and delivery of services. All too often non-unionised, low paid workers can be overlooked when policy is being developed, despite having substantial skills and expertise to offer.

“Greens have repeatedly highlighted the lack of fair work practices in the care sector and I would urge Ministers to adopt the recommendations of this review, as a means to improving conditions for everyone working in the sector.”

Responding to the report’s publication, a Scottish Government spokesperson told CommonSpace: “We agree with the Fair Work Convention that enhancing fair work for social care workers is crucial to ensuring a workforce for the future – and to delivering high quality social care services for some of our most vulnerable citizens.

READ MORE: Gathering to organise care for carers as health provision continues evolution in Scotland

“Our National Health and Social Care Workforce Plan will support workforce planning across health and social care services and to directly address recruitment challenges in our social care workforce – including through promoting the sector as a career destination, enhancing career pathways, and supporting workforce development. We will do all we can to ensure that, despite the challenges posed by Brexit, we continue to attract and retain the right people and benefit from the valuable contribution that EU workforce make to the sector.

“We are raising the status of social care as a profession by enabling adult care workers in Scotland to be paid the real Living Wage from October 2016, for the first time. This move is benefiting up to 40,000 people in the social services sector, and has provided resource over the last two years to cover the extension of the real Living Wage to sleepover hours during 2018/19.

“We will consider carefully the recommendations from the Fair Work Convention report and work with national and local partners to develop a plan for next steps.”

Later this week, the Scottish Government will publish its own Fair Work Action Plan, which builds on the Fair Work Framework and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement last year that the Scottish Government will adopt a new default position, termed ‘Fair Work First’.

Across 2019/20, the Scottish Government will be increasing its package of investment in social care and integration to exceed £700 million.

Picture courtesy of Carers Week