It’s time we paid our care workers better - Alison Johnstone

My own experience of NHS services in recent months has been a reminder of just how hard staff work, not just dealing with the pandemic but in all the other ways they support and look after us all.

Since the start of this pandemic, our NHS workers have shown immense dedication, commitment and compassion, and so have those who work in our care services.

The way we collectively show gratitude for their work matters. Through the pandemic I joined others in applauding them from our doorsteps, but let’s face it, they deserve more than that.

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This month NHS workers are due a £500 ‘bonus’ from the Scottish Government and it’s good that the fact staff have gone above the call of duty in the past year has been acknowledged.

While I understand that some of the highest earners have said they do not need the bonus, it’s shocking to hear that some of the lowest-paid health service workers rely on top-ups to wages from schemes like tax credits or universal credit. The Department for Work and Pensions confirmed that the bonus would be considered earnings, resulting in some payments being cut, and this left managers advising some of the lowest-paid workers to opt out of getting it at all.

It is a disgrace that anyone doing essential work in the NHS or in our care services should be relying on benefits.

A bonus isn’t the same as a pay rise, and the value we place on those who save our lives should be reflected in a permanent fashion.

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This bonus misses out all those who work in services that are run privately, like agency workers, many of those keeping our hospitals clean or who work in the care sector. Our health and care services should not be propped up with poorly paid or insecure work.

It’s time we started recognising the value of work of the people who keep out health service running safely and smoothly, who save lives and who look after our elderly family members.

But as well as valuing their work, a pay rise should also be seen as an investment in the future of our health and care services, which were being hit by staff shortages, long before the pandemic hit.

The British Medical Association has warned that over half of members feel their health and wellbeing has got worse over the last year, with COVID adding to levels of stress and exhaustion. The Royal College of Nursing has said the same about nurses.

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As we build a recovery for the NHS from the pandemic, we can’t afford to let staff leave because of low pay.

It was interesting to see the expert review on adult social care led by Derek Feeley backing calls for a publicly-owned social care service. This has been something I have given a lot of thought to. Clearly, we have seen that leaving Scotland’s care services to market forces has led to very poor wages in the sector.

A National Care Service has the potential to better value the people who care for our loved ones, as long as it retains local accountability and reflects the needs of local communities.

It’s time to reflect on the workers we value most, and pay them accordingly.