Taking pride in our carers

Carers need much greater recognition, argues GAVIN CORBETT 

IT’S no exaggeration to say that the benchmark of a civilised society is how it cares for its oldest and youngest citizens.

Yet, it’s an aim that is proving hard to achieve here in Edinburgh. Every week in the city, 5000 hours of social care go unmet. That is care for older, disabled and seriously ill people simply going begging, putting extra pressure on families and also on the NHS.

Meanwhile, Edinburgh remains a forbidding place to get childcare, especially affordable childcare, for children under five. As the parent of two sons I know this personally!

So I believe Scotland can care better. I believe that government and local councils can be bolder in meeting that ambition.

That is why, as part of the recent Edinburgh budget process, I put forward a proposal, costed at £1.76m, to provide staff who are caring for our older and disabled citizens a new “Living Wage Plus” of £9 an hour at minimum.

The council has made positive noises in support of a Living Wage for all care staff. And the Scottish Government has said that £250m of funding for health and social care work could be used, in part, to ensure that staff get paid the Living Wage of £8.25 an hour.

However, when both Morrisons and Lidl are, rightly, offering staff £8.20 an hour to cover checkouts or stack shelves, it is hard to see how Living Wage alone will address the acute shortage of workers to bridge the gap of 5000 hours of unmet care.

Of course, it is not just pay. If caring is to be recognised for the immense value that it has, then it needs to be better supported as well, with high-quality training, making the most of technology and with work patterns which allow caring staff to focus on doing their best for service users.

And, in turn, social care is just one part of the picture. At the other end of the age spectrum, childcare staff also need to be recognised for the social value they add. It’s an investment, as demonstrated by Finland, where the acclaimed achievements of the Finnish schooling system are founded on the solid rock of high quality, affordable and accessible childcare before children even get to school.

And, above all, perhaps, is the ultimate carer: the family member, the concerned neighbour or longstanding friend who ploughs on, unpaid, or with modest state support, to nurture the young and provide dignity to the elderly. This is where the Green policy of universal Citizens Income is truly revolutionary, assigning value to caring or community work, in a world where these things are regarded as free, while a parasitical hedge-fund manager rakes in millions.

These are big ambitions. To realise them will need councils to work closely with a bolder Scottish Parliament. So it is welcome that I have the full backing of former Green councillor and now Green MSP Alison Johnstone, to push these priorities in the Scottish Parliament.

Edinburgh has much to be proud of. To see it become a caring capital would make me even prouder.

This blog was first published in the Edinburgh Evening News on 26 January 2016