National Care service not best way to improve social care say Falkirk councillors
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While members agreed that change is urgently needed, they say there are plenty of improvements that could be made right now, without all the upheaval of such a major restructure and the proposal is not the best way to improve social care for people in Falkirk district.
And one councillor said he felt the proposed upheaval could be “hugely damaging” to existing services.
At a special meeting of Falkirk Council this week, councillors agreed a response to a Scotland-wide consultation on the Scottish Government proposal, which launched In August and closed on Tuesday.
Politicians from all three parties backed chief executive Kenneth Lawrie’s view that many of the aims of the service could be achieved without “wholescale institutional change”.
They also agreed that taking services away from democratic accountability and local control would not be a welcome step.
The consultation was set up by the Scottish Government following an independent review of adult social care across the country.
A key recommendation was the creation of a National Care Service (NCS), putting social care on an equal footing with NHS Scotland.
The review, chaired by Derek Feeley, also called for improvements in the status and conditions of social care staff – who could earn more working in a supermarket – and the need for increased funding for the sector.
However, while there was broad agreement with the Feeley report’s conclusions, the consultation which followed took everyone by surprise, as the changes it proposed were much wider ranging, taking in children’s social work, justice and alcohol and drug services as well.
Falkirk Council felt that there was not enough detail in the report about key areas – in particular the financial impact of the changes and what it would mean for staff.
Chief social worker Sara Lacey said the council had taken into account as many views as possible when preparing its response.
People could see the positives in the proposals, she said – but there was not enough detail to fully support any changes.
“Concern about costs and time was universal in the feedback,” she added.
She pointed out that The National Care Service is intended to be fully functioning by the end of the parliamentary term and this would place huge demands on the service where staff are already under immense pressure.
Councillor Fiona Collie, the SNP spokesperson on health and social care, said that it had been clear from the review that change was needed.
She said: “We shouldn’t forget that this review is about people’s experience of social care support – service users, carers and staff – and they talked openly and honestly about their experiences, particularly during the pandemic, and their hope of social care being something that should feel nurturing and supportive rather than a battlefield.”
“We could do more without a National Care Service,” she said. “It represents a major transformational change which will take years to develop.
“It is important that this scale of change does not distract from what people need now and in the next few years.”
She said the current system – with an Integrated Joint Board to oversee health and social care services – would maintain links with other vital council services such as housing, benefit support and education.
Labour’s spokesperson, Councillor Allyson Black, welcomed the council’s response to the consultation.
But, she added: “A decent salary for care workers is really important but it can’t be done without also improving the culture and a career pathways for people working in the sector.
“Scottish Labour are asking for £12 an hour, leading up to £15 an hour for care workers – it won’t solve the problem but it will be a start.”
The Conservatives also backed the recommendations.
Councillor Nigel Harris said: “As a group, we believe that there have been numerous failings with social care and not helped by the pandemic.
“Undoubtedly improvements are needed but we believe that massive system reform at this time would be hugely damaging when the system is already under great stress.
“We need to look at what improvements can be made now and we believe that local delivery is the key.”
Councillors also agreed to note in the consultation that they would not use any zero hours contracts.
Meanwhile, the GMB Union has warned that if the Government fails to value care workers they will start organising for industrial action across the care sector.
GMB General Secretary Gary Smith has backed care workers to organise for strikes in their fight for a £15 an hour social care minimum wage.
The General Secretary said: “Pay is the priority in tackling the growing understaffing crisis and lifting the unsustainable pressures not just in social care, but in our NHS too – that’s why we are ‘fighting for fifteen’.
“We know the prospect of wages just above £10 an hour won’t cut it, and if you want to retain and recruit the people we need then we must value this essential work properly.
“After the awful events of this pandemic and with a bleak winter ahead, the consequences of continuing to neglect these key workers should be crystal clear to everyone.”