UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in intensive care with Covid-19 should be a wake-up call to anyone who still needed one about just how dangerous this virus really is. Johnson is not of pensioner age – he’s just 55 years old. We must do everything we can to suppress this virus; no life is worth sacrificing.
On Saturday, Catherine Sweeney lost her battle against The Coronavirus, the first home-carer to die in Scotland. Sweeney’s family issued a statement via her union, the GMB, yesterday: “Catherine was well known, and well respected within the community of Dumbarton, where she was born and raised. She was a caring and generous person, especially when it came to her time, having dedicated over 20 years of her life as a home-carer to unfailingly serving the needs of the most vulnerable in society.”
Carers are the forgotten heroes of our society, and Sweeney was one of them. Under-paid and over-worked, this largely female workforce has been taken for granted when they should have been rewarded for the ‘key’ work they do day in, day out. While there is rightly attention on whether front-line nurses and doctors are getting the kit they need, social care workers have been left to largely fend for themselves. Many carers are themselves in the high-risk category, yet they have not been provided with sufficient PPE to go around and even less have been tested. Channel 4 asked First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday how many social care workers had been tested, and she couldn’t say. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that has been able to provide Channel 4 with figures for social care work testing. As GMB Scotland organiser Hazel Nolan said yesterday: “An untold story of this crisis so far has been the inconvenient truth that the lower paid you are on the frontline of the key worker response, the less protection and resource you get.”
There are reports of alarming levels of social care workers off work either from sickness or because they have others at home they must self-isolate with. It is little good to save the elderly in intensive care units if they are not going to be cared for, either at home or in a care home. The shocking death of 16 people in just over one week in Burlington Care Home in Cranhill, Glasgow should have alarm bells ringing. We have now a case of eight residents at a care home in Dumbarton dying as well. There is a perfectly good reason why the Scottish Government integrated social and health care – because the two are symbiotic. Saving your leg only to let a wound on your arm go septic is not a very clever health strategy.
It’s long past time we cared for the carers. We need to hire more social carers, and ensure they have the testing and kit they need to do their jobs. Scotland should become a care economy, with staff redeployed to care from industries that are not currently salvageable like hospitality, tourism and aviation. And their pay should be substantially raised – average earnings of £18,400 per annum are pitiful. Treat this work as the hard, skilled labour that it is. If local authorities and the Scottish Government don’t have the money, then go and demand it out of the UK Government now. Everyone now surely knows austerity was based on a lie. And if you still can’t get the cash, councils should borrow more. Economists expect the official unemployment rate to have jumped five-fold by May to over 20 per cent. We should be worrying about the cost of not employing people, not the cost of employing them.
A sea-change is needed in what we value as a society, but there’s no time for talk about “after this is over, we are going to change…”. Forget “after” – if we can’t give the care sector the respect it deserves by funding and resourcing it properly right now, we never will.