VOICE EXTRA: Unison backs National Care Service plan

ASK THE PUBLIC: when the lockdown is relaxed enough, Scottish Socialists intend to secure the support of the general public via stalls in city centres · Photo: Craig Maclean

Calls are growing in support of the SSP’S demand for a publicly owned and regulated National Care Service. The UK’s biggest union UNISON has called for a replacement to the existing “broken” care service in a new strategy document published today.

Assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “The Covid-19 crisis has further exposed just how desperately the care sector needs reform.

“The NHS must be its inspiration. The government must introduce fundamental reform to create a system fit for the future.”

‘Care After Covid: A Vision for Social Care’ sets out how the fragmented and crisis-riven sector could be transformed into a national care system.

Unison said that a national scheme should be undertaken in Scotland, where the social-care sector was “woefully under-prepared” for the pandemic.

The union warned that many care workers are currently on zero-hours contracts that have little job security and no paid holidays or sick pay.

The union said that local authorities should only source care from providers “that pay their taxes, recognise unions, provide staff with standard work contracts and pay at least the real living wage.”

“The government must introduce fundamental reform to create a system fit for the future.”

UNISON follows the GMB in backing the proposal for an NCS and this has been welcomed by SSP National spokesperson Colin Fox who said, “It is increasingly clear that the National Care Service is an idea whose time has come and pressure is now growing on the Scottish government to introduce it.”

Below, we reproduce Colin’s article on the NCS from the current edition of Scottish Socialist Voice

For a National Care Service

Free at the point of need, publicly owned and democratically managed

· by Colin Fox, SSP national co-spokesperson

‘Of all the UK’s mis-steps in tackling coronavirus, the epidemic in the care homes is the worst,’ thundered the Financial Times last week, before adding that ‘In Scotland, half of the 4,000 deaths have occurred in care homes.’

We will not have to wait for the Public Enquiry to understand why that happened said the FT as ‘Health professionals already know why; care homes were under resourced and utterly ill-prepared for the crisis’.

We also know that tens of thousands of elderly patients across Britain—the very people the virus targets most—were shipped out of modern NHS hospitals and dumped into ‘under resourced, ill equipped’ inferior facilities.

And into care homes that spend only £6-per-day on food for each resident, that pay the majority of their 40,000 Scottish staff the minimum wage and that are almost entirely run for private profit.

Tough questions lie ahead for Nicola Sturgeon when this pandemic is over because it is not just the appalling number of fatalities this scandal has unearthed, the quality of those deaths has also been heart-breaking. These poor patients died alone, without their loved ones beside them at this most important of times.

The Daily Record insists ‘no other issue is as important’ as the change needed in the way our care homes operate. The Scottish Socialist Party agrees.

SSP care campaign
That is why we have launched our campaign for a National Care Service free at the point of need, publicly owned, democratically controlled and allied to our NHS. We cannot and will not accept that residential nursing care is best provided by a model where profit and ‘fiduciary responsibility’ are put ahead of all else.

And we are convinced the public agree with us. The current model of residential care is not fit for purpose. The big four UK providers HC-One, Four Seasons, Care UK and Barchester Healthcare are not driven by 21st century standards of care where the wellbeing of residents and staff is primary.

Their overriding objective is to secure lucrative returns for venture capitalist in far off tax havens.

Where stands Scottish Labour and the SNP in this acute conflict? Scottish Labour’s position was outlined in an online forum this week entitled ‘After the Lockdown.

Building a National Care Service’ addressed by Richard Leonard and Andy Burnham and in their September 2019 document ‘Towards the National Care Service—Labour’s Vision’. Three important ‘takeaways’ emerge.

First that Labour’s idea of a National Service is merely one that is better regulated to ensure uniformity of provision across the private, ‘Not for profit’ and public sectors.

Second, they also want ‘the majority of homes to be ‘not for profit’ operations suggesting they are happy with 49 per cent to remain in private hands.

And third, their focus on improving the pay and conditions of staff says nothing about social care as a service being provided either free at the point of need, publicly or being democratically governed.

The SNP’s view, expressed in their party website under ‘Health and Social Care’ merely demands ‘the integration of 31 Health and Social Care Partnerships across Scotland, managing £8billion in assets’.

But they too seem to oppose the 20 per cent of people looked after in residential care being nursed free at the point of need, via publicly provided facilities or the service being under democratic control.

Like Labour, the Scottish National Party wishes to keep the private model and seem to think the primary problem is bureaucratic.

Both parties appear unaware of the widespread public anger over the staggering number of deaths, the quality of care provided and the increasingly bankrupt private model. I say bankrupt because the big four private providers are burdened by debts so high they take £56,000 per resident per annum out of the service to remit to their financiers.

Service fit for 21st century
The Scottish Socialist Party, at a meeting of our Executive Committee last weekend, announced plans to step up our campaign for a National Care Service free at the point of need, paid for out of general taxation, publicly owned and democratically managed to standards appropriate for the 21st century.

We intend to write to all trade unions in Scotland seeking support for our plan and invite endorsements from well-known public health figures like Dr. Allyson Pollock, Harry Burns former CEO of Public Health Scotland and Dr. Jean Turner the former MSP for Central Scotland.

We have urged the Daily Record to commission an opinion poll asking the public to outline their preference for how this service should be provided and we are confident we know what their answer will be.

When the lockdown is over, and Scottish Socialist Party activists are able to take to the streets again, we intend to secure the support of the general public via stalls in city centres.

We believe there is huge popular support for our plan and are well aware what victory will mean for Scotland’s senior citizens, their families and the carers who look after them.

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