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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Our carers deserve to be rewarded - Russell Gunson

This article was first published in The Herald on Tuesday 28th April 2020

The 8pm the ‘clap for carers’ has become a highlight in my house in these dark coronavirus dominated days. The feeling of a community doing something together when we’re all spending so much time apart has a powerful and emotional effect. Even more so when you spend that time thinking of the lives being put on the line by our healthcare workers trying to confront this pandemic.

When the war heroes of WW1 returned from the frontline it spawned the ‘homes fit for heroes’ national mission, and when the WW2 heroes returned they came back to a new expanded welfare state that offered support ‘from cradle to grave’. If fighting Coronavirus is like fighting a war, as we are told it is, we must also see a similar recognition for our heroes this time. Not in tokens but in real recognition that improves the lives of health and care workers across Scotland by providing care fit for our carers.

Health and care workers need more support both now and in the future. Polling conducted by IPPR and YouGov across the UK found that almost three in four healthcare workers do not think the government has done enough to protect their health with only 18 per cent believing they had done so. In Scotland, the findings are similar albeit with slightly higher support for what the government has done to protect workers’ health.

On mental health, around two in five healthcare workers in Scotland and across the UK believe the government has not done enough to protect their mental health. Half report that their mental health has deteriorated during the crisis.

It’s therefore incredibly important that we get physical and mental health support to health and care workers on the frontline in Scotland and across the UK as quickly as possible. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and additional mental health support for workers across all parts of the sector has to be an urgent priority. And while the Scottish government has done a great deal of good work to expand testing capacity, it’s clear we now need to work to make that as accessible as possible – including through mobile and home testing capacity.

Our survey also showed that some healthcare workers are struggling with personal caring responsibilities of their own too. Across the UK just over a quarter of workers believe the government is not providing sufficient childcare. The Welsh government has funded an uplift in childcare support for key workers, and we should look to do the same here in Scotland too.

Critically, one in five of the healthcare workers we polled, both within Scotland and across the UK, were considering leaving their roles after the virus. This puts the future of the health service in grave peril. We must look after our care workers now so that we are able to rely on them in the future.

It’s absolutely crucial that our recognition goes beyond just good will. Care has been undervalued for too long and we must now take steps to redress this. IPPR is calling for a 10 per cent pay bonus for all healthcare staff to reward their courageous efforts to tackle the coronavirus.

And within social care, while it’s incredibly welcome to see Scottish government action to pay the real living wage, we must go further. The value of social care work should finally be recognised by properly benchmarking their pay against NHS pay scales. In a sector that has been blighted by high turnover and poor terms and conditions for too long, a new social care partnership body to formally bring trade unions, employers and commissioners together will also be key to making necessary reforms and delivering the routes for training, career progression and job security the sector desperately needs.

We must also provide long-term recognition of the sacrifices that have and will be made to keep us safe and well. Next year marks the 150th anniversary of the Bank Holiday Act across the UK. We believe it is time to create a new annual ‘Carer’s Day’ Bank Holiday from next year, or as soon as we are able, to allow a way for us all to come together to remember how integral paid and unpaid care is to our everyday lives.

These may be darker times, but even now there are glimpses of light. The effects of this virus will impact on all of our lives, but not equally. If we are to come through this strange Covid-world to build the stronger and fairer Scotland we wish to see, then we must do more than offer our appreciation. We must promise ourselves that we will do everything we can to value the things that matter to us, to improve the lives of the people we rely on, and to come together to recognise how dependent on each other we really are when it comes down to it.

If we can do that, then maybe that would be the best way of all to recognise the sacrifices being made by healthcare workers now to make everyday life possible again for us all in the future.

Russell Gunson is Director of IPPR Scotland