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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 26 April 2017

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Carers and Social Care, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week 2017, Correction


Contents


Carers and Social Care

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-05312, in the name of Alison Johnstone, on carers and social care.

14:43  

Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

I am proud to lead a debate that calls for greater recognition and support for all those who provide care, whether by working in our overstretched social care sector or by providing unpaid care, and I am proud to commit to the principle that high-quality social care should ultimately be free at the point of use. I thank all those who have provided well-evidenced briefings, as well as the young and adult carers and staff who shared their experiences with me when I visited Edinburgh Young Carers Project this morning.

The introduction of free personal care for the elderly has rightly been regarded as a success, as it provides greater security and dignity to elderly people across Scotland. That is truly a case of Scotland leading by example. However, in previous debates, we have heard that social care charges for those who are under the age of 65 put people under financial strain and limit their independence. The Scottish Greens fundamentally believe that social care is essential to people’s health, dignity and control.

Recently, the Scottish Government has committed to making social care at home free for those who are in the last six months of a terminal progressive illness. There have also been proposals to make social care free for all those who have conditions such as dementia and other degenerative neurological conditions. I applaud all the campaigners, charities and constituents who have pressed hard for those changes—not least Amanda Kopel, who has campaigned for Frank’s law, and we cannot fail to pay tribute to Gordon Aikman, whose contribution cannot be overestimated.

Such steps are positive but, in the long term, we must be wary of moving towards basing entitlement to free social care on a particular medical diagnosis. Many people believe that that is discriminatory and cannot be justified. If a person needs the care, they need the care—it should not matter what condition they have or what age they are. That is why the Scottish Greens believe that we must commit to funding high-quality social care that is ultimately free at the point of use for all, regardless of age or medical condition.

We know that the Scottish Government has commissioned a feasibility study on extending free personal care to under-65s—initially for people with dementia, but with consideration of all conditions. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport previously told us that she would be happy to use that study as the focal point for cross-party discussions on extending free personal care to under-65s. I ask the Government to update us on the progress of that study and to tell us when it will share the findings. It is time for the discussions on progressive changes to social care policy to begin and for the Government to make clear its position on the abolition of all social care charges. The integration of health and social care strengthens the case for moving towards a truly cohesive health and social care system that is free at all points of use.

The debate is about unpaid carers, too. According to Carers Scotland, unpaid carers save the Scottish economy £10.8 billion, which is close to the cost of providing national health services in Scotland. Three out of five of us will become carers at some stage in our lives, but the value of the work that carers do is not recognised. Nobody should face poverty because of the care that they give, but research by Carers Scotland shows that a third of carers struggle to pay utility bills, 47 per cent have been in debt and half of carers struggle just to make ends meet.

Carers UK’s caring and family finances inquiry found that, on average, carers lose £20,000 a year by choosing to care and about 35 per cent of carers who care for more than 25 hours a week are in poverty. The cost of caring goes on, because of lost earnings and lost opportunities to build up pension contributions. One of the young adult carers who I met this morning had to turn down a university offer because of caring, and another lost a job because of caring responsibilities. The impact of caring on earnings is very clear.

The Government made a manifesto commitment to increase carers allowance to the same level as jobseekers allowance and has been reviewing the “financial implications” of topping up carers allowance. We cannot allow support for carers to be delayed or reduced, so I invite the Government to make clear its plans to deliver that manifesto promise. That top-up does not go far enough—bringing carers allowance into line with jobseekers allowance does not recognise the vital work that carers do. That is why the Scottish Greens campaigned to lift carers allowance by 50 per cent, to £93.15 a week.

We want to secure a fair settlement with the United Kingdom Government and local authorities, so that any increase in the allowance will not interfere with the payment of other benefits or increase care charges that people pay. There should also be a premium for those who care for more than one person. The Government intends to increase carers allowance for those who care for more than one disabled child; I urge it to take a broader view and consider everyone who cares for more than one person, no matter what age they are.

I am glad that the Government has agreed to consider introducing some form of young carers allowance, because we must provide better support for young carers and young adult carers. There are at least 29,000 young carers in Scotland with significant practical or emotional caring responsibilities. The demands of caring can have a detrimental impact on young people’s mental health, educational attainment and overall wellbeing.

There is also strong evidence that the most financially vulnerable young people are disproportionately likely to have caring responsibilities. Recent research for the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland indicates that 27 per cent of young carers come from the most deprived 15 per cent of areas of Scotland. The Carers Trust stresses that young carers are always children, first and foremost. We should minimise their practical caring responsibilities wherever possible and provide additional support in a way that prioritises their education and personal development.

The Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 is a good step forward; there was broad cross-party support for that important piece of legislation, which put carers’ entitlement to support and respite on a statutory footing. Regardless of a carer’s age, the importance of access to respite and the positive impact that respite has cannot be overstated, and we have a duty to make sure that those rights are delivered in practice. Many people do not realise that they are carers and do not know that they are eligible for support.

I call attention to the role that employers can play in supporting carers. Juggling work and providing care is tough and, all too often, it gets too much. The organisation Employers for Carers points out that there are costs for companies when they lose staff because of their caring responsibilities. As our population ages, we need to develop more forward-thinking employment policies and make paid leave for carers widely available. So far, only five employers in Scotland have been awarded exemplary status by Carers Scotland and the power company Centrica is the only one in the private sector to have received it. It is therefore clear that employers of all kinds have a way to go.

I turn to the need to strengthen pay and conditions in the social care sector. The Government’s commitment to paying social care staff the living wage was welcome and I am glad that it has extended that commitment to personal assistants and social care workers in day centres. However, I am concerned—I would welcome clarification from the cabinet secretary or the minister on this—that there is no guarantee that social care staff who work with children will be entitled to the living wage. Moreover, the living wage does not reflect the incredible value of such work, its emotional demands and the deep commitment that carers bring to every care visit in every home and by every bedside.

Scottish Care’s report “Trees that bend in the wind: exploring the experience of front line support workers delivering palliative and end of life care” provides an insight into the challenging role of social care staff who support people with progressive illnesses or people who need palliative care. Not only do those staff deliver increasingly complex care for the most vulnerable, but many have direct experience of being by people’s sides as they die. Social care staff are a vital support for bereaved families and they have to manage feelings of loss themselves, but they are not afforded the recognition that they deserve. That is why the Scottish Greens want to pay all social care staff a living wage plus of £9.20 an hour. If we are serious about building a sustainable and compassionate social care system, pay for staff must reflect that.

I believe that the Government’s long-term goal is for sleepovers to be paid at the living wage rate, but it would be helpful if we heard about a timescale for achieving that. I have heard from constituents who work in the social care sector that they are still not fairly paid for all the time that is spent travelling between shifts or for all the handover shifts that they do.

Appropriate pay and better working conditions are badly needed to help us to recruit social care staff and retain people with experience. Good pay progression and training opportunities for people who work in more senior roles are essential. Roles in social care should be seen as positions to aspire to. Carers should have more opportunities to specialise in particular forms of care and to work collaboratively with other health and social care professionals.

Carers and third sector organisations have told me that they are not adequately represented on integration joint boards. More joint planning is needed across the sector to ensure greater stability. Many of us will be aware of the worrying example in Kirkcudbright where a private sector provider pulled out of providing day care services in a care home, which left service users with nowhere to turn. The provider was able to exit the contract with 90 days’ notice. It is wholly inappropriate that crucial services can be pulled away like that.

The rate of nursing vacancies in our care homes is incredibly high—up to 28 per cent of posts are vacant. In the past, NHS workforce planning has not reflected the need to fill posts across the social care sector, too. I hope that the new national health and social care workforce plan will change that, because we need more stability, especially when Brexit could throw this already precarious sector into jeopardy. Immigrants make a huge contribution to our social care sector and we must protect their rights to live and work here. We cannot forget, either, the need to improve pay and conditions for all the other staff, such as the cleaners and cooks who support the social care sector, which could not function without them.

Without carers, the independence and quality of life of many is diminished, human rights are not realised and the burden on our national health service becomes even greater. Few jobs are more important. Let us make it clear that we understand that by making sure that carers and all who work in the care sector have the recognition and support that they deserve.

I move,

That the Parliament believes that there remains a vast gap between the value of care and the support or pay that carers receive; further believes that nobody should face poverty because of the care they give; supports calls for the Scottish Government to provide more practical support to young carers, greater financial support to young adult carers in education and a carers allowance for unpaid carers that is increased in value, available more widely and does not count as income when assessing benefits and care charges; believes that quality social care is essential to many people’s health, dignity and control; agrees to ensure that all who work in social care, including people working with children, are paid at least a "Living Wage Plus"; considers that better conditions and career opportunities are essential to recruiting and retaining experienced staff, particularly in light of Brexit, and commits to funding high-quality social care that is ultimately free at the point of use, and paid for by local tax reform and progressive national taxation, and not by care charges.

14:54  

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport (Shona Robison)

I am pleased to take part in a debate that raises these important issues. The Scottish Government’s vision of a healthier, fairer and wealthier Scotland places at its heart a preventative, person-centred and community-led approach to improving people’s lives. I am sure that members agree that all our citizens, including children and young people, deserve good-quality and efficient health and social care services. However, we are aware of the challenges. People living longer is a success story, but as the population ages, the scale and complexity of demand for health and social care support is growing. Those changes mean that it is not sustainable to deliver services in the same way as has been done in the past. Radical service redesign, including the integration of health and social care, is required to meet the challenges.

It is not just the ageing population that presents a challenge. Some 47 per cent of unpaid carers in the most deprived areas of Scotland care for 35 hours a week or more. If carers are not appropriately supported, such high-intensity caring can lead to increased social isolation and add to pressures on both the carer’s finances and their health and wellbeing. It is clear to me that we must do more towards tackling the inequalities that are experienced by carers in those areas, while supporting the whole population with their health and social care needs.

Against the background of those challenges, we are continuing to make progress in improving the fairness of the system of charging for social care. Most recently, we have provided local authorities with £5 million to enable them to exempt veterans war pension payments from social care financial assessments from 1 April this year. Our next step is to undertake a feasibility study into the extension of free personal care to those who are under 65, building on the calls for Frank’s law. I, too, pay tribute to the work of Amanda Kopel and others. Alison Johnstone asked for an update, and I note that discussions are under way. Indeed, officials will meet the Scotland against the care tax campaign next week as part of a wider engagement with stakeholders as we take that work forward.

We have already raised the threshold for charging, which we estimated would result in around 15,000 people paying fewer charges or being taken out of charging completely. As Alison Johnstone said, we have also ended charging for those who are terminally ill in the last six months of life.

This is a busy week for social security. Tomorrow, the Minister for Social Security will make an announcement to the Parliament on the Scottish social security agency, but today the focus is on carers, and rightly so. We are already committed to increasing carers allowance to the same level as jobseekers allowance. Over recent months, we have heard directly from carers, including young carers, about their day-to-day challenges and their experiences of social security. Some are well supported, but others face challenges to their health and wellbeing and indeed their education.

I want to see a Scotland where all our young people, including young carers, can reach their full potential. The Government is happy to work with any social security ideas that will improve the lot of the people of Scotland. I am pleased to report that we are making good progress in our commitment, which was initiated by the Scottish Green Party, to explore the introduction of a young carers allowance for young people with significant caring responsibilities. Officials across Government have engaged with a wide range of representative organisations to identify gaps and opportunities in the current support landscape for young carers.

As the Parliament will be aware, the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016, which will come into force next April, establishes new duties to provide support and information to adult carers and young carers. New adult carer support plans and young carer statements will capture the support needs of carers, helping them to realise their personal outcomes, ensuring that they can continue to care if they so wish and helping to improve their own health and wellbeing. That will depend on meaningful conversations with carers of all ages. It is our ambition that children and young people be better supported to help to realise their own aspirations, including in work or education.

The 2016 act sits not in isolation but within the wider health and social care landscape. The new integrated health and social care partnerships are responsible for managing more than £8 billion of resources that NHS boards and local authorities previously managed separately. The planning, designing and commissioning of services in a more integrated way from a single budget allows partnerships to take a more joined-up approach, enabling resources to be shifted, based on local priorities, to target preventative activity.

In the coming year, almost £0.5 billion of additional investment in social care and integration will be transferred from the NHS. We will continue to shift the balance of care by increasing the share of the NHS budget that is dedicated to primary, community and social care in every year of the current session of Parliament.

Within the resource that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution has announced for 2017-18, we have made available £100 million to support sustainability in the care sector and the continued delivery of the living wage. That continued investment enables the real living wage, as set by the independent Living Wage Foundation, to be paid on a full-year basis and at the new rate of £8.45 an hour from next week, and it will give up to 40,000 people a well-deserved pay rise. Those people, who are mainly women, do some of the most valuable work in Scotland.

As announced last month, we will provide local authorities with additional funding to extend payment of the living wage to all childcare staff who deliver the funded early learning and childcare entitlement from the full roll-out of 1,140 hours in 2020. Up to 8,000 staff in the private and third sectors will benefit from that uplift.

That helps us to continue our work in raising the status and image of social care as a profession and to help attract and retain the right people, which are central to our vision for social services in Scotland. We all agree that that is of vital importance, particularly in the context of the challenges posed by the prospect of Brexit. We know that if Scotland loses access to the single market due to Brexit—and, with it, freedom of movement—that could pose a serious recruitment challenge for social care.

Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

Will the cabinet secretary confirm whether housekeeping staff will also be paid the living wage?

Shona Robison

The focus has been on workers who deliver social care. It has been a very unusual step to have a Government putting public money into what are, in essence, private sector organisations. That does not happen for any other sector. Tens of millions of pounds have gone into private sector organisations to help them to deliver the living wage. As Miles Briggs will appreciate, that has focused on those who deliver social care to service users. It is, of course, for employers to address, as part of their business delivery, any consequential effects on the terms and conditions of their other staff. However, it is quite right that our focus has been on social care staff. Given that support has come from public money, we need to make sure that it delivers as much social care recruitment and retention as possible.

As part of our efforts to raise the status of social care, we are making important progress towards social care being a regulated profession. To maintain their registration, staff must continually update their skills and knowledge. That approach will continue to improve the delivery of social services and protect service users through ensuring a competent, confident and skilled workforce.

I do not have time to address the issue of sleepovers, so Aileen Campbell will do so in her closing remarks. I thank Alison Johnstone for moving the motion.

I move amendment S5M-05312.2, to leave out from “agrees” to end and insert:

“welcomes that work to explore the extension of free personal care to people under 65 who would benefit from it is under way; notes recent investments to make care charges fairer and calls on all local authorities to ensure that they are as flexible as possible in the withdrawal of charges; believes that all local authorities should ensure that all staff providing social care are paid at least the real Living Wage, as set by the independent Living Wage Foundation, with a view to providing better conditions and structures for career development to help recruit and retain staff, and further believes that, if Scotland loses access to the single market due to Brexit, and with it freedom of movement, that this will pose a serious recruitment challenge for social care.”

15:02  

Annie Wells (Glasgow) (Con)

I am pleased to speak in the debate today and to show my gratitude to the hundreds of thousands of social work staff members and unpaid carers who work tirelessly to support children and adults in need or at risk in Scotland.

Social care, which is an umbrella term for social work, personal care, protection or social support services for those who are in need or at risk—whether that arises from illness, disability, old age or poverty—has changed for the better over the past 50 years. As I am sure we will all agree today, health, dignity and control should always be at the centre of social care policy. We are moving in the right direction, despite fundamental concerns on which my colleagues and I will expand later.

Beginning with the wholesale transformation of social care for those with learning disabilities, support has shifted away from institutionalisation towards promoting independence in community-based settings. That move is still under way for mental health patients, and I welcome the progress that is being made to support people away from hospital and in truly person-centred surroundings.

The benefits of the process are unquestionable, and we hope that they will be extended even further through self-directed support, the legislation on which aims to give people control over their own support. Since the Social Care (Self-Directed Support) (Scotland) Act 2013, which came into force three years ago—obliging local authorities to offer people who are eligible for social care a range of choices over how they receive their support—people are assessed and a budget is awarded to meet their support needs. Service users have four options: to take a direct payment, which is a cash payment for them to purchase support directly; to choose a provider, but to have the council hold the budget; to have the council arrange their support in full; or a mixture of the previous three options.

As I said, the benefits of person-centred care are dramatic. I recently had the chance to speak to someone who worked for a social care provider and who was able to recite accounts that reinforced that opinion. One gentleman, who moved to supported living from hospital, would always leave his lights on—not because he was incapable of switching them off, but because, for most of his life, he had lived in hospital, where nurses switched the lights on and off for him.

In another case, a woman loathed showering, due to a hospital ritual whereby she had been forced to shower every morning straight after waking up from horrific nightmares. The freedom that her move out of hospital gave her to choose when she wanted to shower—and a more soothing ritual of coffee and a cigarette afterwards, to help her to calm down—enabled her to overcome her fear.

Both people were mental health patients who had lost all sense of independence and control during a long period of hospitalisation, and whose lives were dramatically improved when they were offered choices and dedicated, personalised support.

Despite such positive steps, there are concerns, which many members share. There are grave issues with recruitment and retention—my colleague Donald Cameron will talk about that in more detail. There are fundamental issues to do with staff numbers and working conditions. We have an ageing social care workforce and an ever-increasing workload, and we need to provide the conditions and career opportunities in the sector that will support people.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

The member recognises the importance of social care work, as well as the challenges of recruitment and retention. Why, then, does the Tory amendment delete any reference either to the Green proposition for a living wage plus or to the real living wage itself? Why is a decent wage not a reasonable recompense for this important work?

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

I should say that there is time in hand for all members who want to make interventions in the debate. We can be quite generous.

Annie Wells

I think that we all agree that the living wage is a good thing, but there are problems with its implementation. Providers are struggling to cover the increased costs and it does not yet seem to have had an impact on recruitment. There are still major issues with recruitment and retention.

We need to consider how best to improve, for example, free personal care provision—something on which my colleague Miles Briggs has campaigned tirelessly. We must also support Frank’s law, which would extend free personal care to dementia patients under the age of 65.

Age Scotland reported this week that every year more than 8,500 elderly people are missing out on free personal care, because of delays to assessments and care arrangements. Alison Johnstone mentioned that.

It is important to consider what underpins all those concerns. In a report last year, Audit Scotland described the current model of care as “unsustainable”. As a result of demographic change, the increasingly complex demands for care and support and policy commitments such as the living wage, it is estimated that the annual bill in Scotland will reach more than £3 billion and that spending will need to increase by 21 per cent by 2020 unless new models of care are brought in.

That is a monumental issue, and we need to have serious discussions now on how best to develop new models of care that are fit for the future. Furthermore, although the integration of health and social care is certainly a step in the right direction, we need to do our utmost to ensure that communication channels are adequate in the formally integrated system. Although a proper assessment has not yet taken place, professionals are telling us that there are issues and we need to take action.

I reiterate my support for the work of social care workers and unpaid carers, who support hundreds of thousands of people in need across Scotland. Health, dignity and the ability to control one’s support should always be at the heart of policy, and I am pleased that Scotland has made inroads in that regard. However, underlying issues remain in relation to unpaid carers and social work staff. The Carers (Scotland) Act 2016, which comes into force next year, will further support unpaid carers, who are often underrecognised. Unpaid carers’ work is vital and alleviates a huge amount of pressure on social care services, but carers need to be supported. My colleagues Graham Simpson and Brian Whittle will talk about that in more detail.

I move amendment S5M-05312.1, to leave out from “, available more widely” to end and insert:

“; calls on the Scottish Government to take action on Frank’s Law; believes that quality social care is essential to many people’s health, dignity and control; considers that better conditions and career opportunities are essential to recruiting and retaining experienced staff, and, following Audit Scotland’s 2015 report, Health and social care integration, which concluded that ‘current approaches…will not be sustainable in the long term’, commits to developing new models of care to ensure that Scotland’s social care system is fit for the future.”

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Colin Smyth. Mr Smyth, I can give you a generous six minutes—which means that you will get more than six minutes.

15:09  

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

Thank you very much indeed, Presiding Officer.

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests. I am a local councillor, and I was previously employed by Parkinson’s UK.

It is a privilege to open this debate on carers and social care on behalf of Labour. It is a debate that we very much welcome. The provision of social care in Scotland has changed rapidly over the past few years. In its early days, this Parliament introduced landmark legislation, for example to provide for free personal care for the over 65s, but with the introduction of self-directed support, the integration of health and social care and the introduction of legislation to support carers, the way in which social care is delivered will unquestionably change even more in the years ahead. There will be a greater level of personalisation, and the principles of pooled budgets and strategic commissioning across health and social care will become more embedded.

However, it would be wrong to think that this area of public policy is secure and cohesive—far from it. Scotland’s population will change in the next 15 years, with a projected 86 per cent increase in those aged 75 years and over between 2012 and 2037, and a 151 per cent increase in the population aged 85 years and over. With that change, the balance between the tax base and the demand for services will also change. The working population will become smaller and the need for care will grow larger—all against the current backdrop of austerity. More people are living with long-term conditions such as dementia, there are greater numbers with physical health problems caused by Scotland’s obesity crisis, there is a rise in the number of cancer diagnoses and more people than ever before are living with multiple conditions. Whatever else changes in the provision of health and social care over the next few years, those trends will require a significant increase in investment. Part of that investment will need to be directed towards the social care workforce to deal with the current recruitment and retention crisis that we face.

I was instrumental in ensuring that my own council became the first council in Scotland to gain living wage accreditation and I proposed that the living wage be paid to adult social care workers some years ago. Therefore, I welcome the introduction of the living wage for adult social care workers from October last year. I also welcome the commitment to extend that to childcare workers in the private and third sectors who deliver childcare on behalf of local authorities.

There is still unfinished business. Six months since the introduction of the living wage, no deal has yet been agreed for so-called sleepover shifts, so carers who provide overnight support do not receive the living wage. I therefore look forward to the minister updating Parliament on the matter when she sums up at the end of the debate.

We need to build on the living wage not only by having fair pay but by ensuring that all care staff are paid for travel costs and travel time, that no one working in social care is left on a zero-hours contract and that our social care workforce is provided with adequate training and the time to care. Indeed, I commend Unison’s ethical care charter as a template for the fair and ethical employment practices that we would all like to see.

We must ensure that for those who choose to work in social care a proper career structure is developed that connects to professional occupations such as nursing and social work. Furthermore, unpaid carers must be properly recognised as partners in the provision of support. Those carers are the unsung heroes of our country. There are in Scotland nearly 750,000 adult carers and nearly 30,000 young carers dedicating their lives to caring for others—as Alison Johnstone pointed out, they save the Scottish economy £10.8 billion a year because of their selfless care and attention.

Carers Scotland recently reported that a third of those carers are struggling to pay utility bills, 47 per cent have been in debt and half are struggling to make ends meet, cutting back on food and heating as a result. Bringing carers allowance in line with jobseekers allowance would increase a carer’s income by £600 a year. The Scottish Government has had the power to deliver that increase since last September. In March, new powers to overhaul carers and disability benefits were devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Those new powers give us a chance to build a truly fairer Scotland, but we need to move past the warm words of support and on to real action. I hope that the minister, in summing up, will give those carers the certainty and respect that they deserve by telling Parliament when the Government will bring forward plans to top up the carers allowance.

As well as a better deal for those who provide care, we need one for those who receive that care. It is now 14 years since the previous Labour-led Government introduced free personal and nursing care for everyone over the age of 65. Today in Scotland, around 77,000 older people benefit from that policy. However, to use words on the Frank’s law campaign website,

“no disability, illness, condition or disease waits until a person reaches the age of 65, then strikes.”

Across Scotland, 90,000 people are living with dementia, but not all of them are over the age of 65. In fact, more than 3,000 are under the age of 65. As we all know, if any of those 3,000 people require personal care, they are financially assessed by their local authority to determine whether they should make a financial contribution towards that care. Where they live often determines how much they pay. It is the same for other long-term conditions, including motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, cancer and many others. In our election manifesto, Scottish Labour made a commitment to work towards the abolition of such care charges for all those under the age of 65—to go beyond Frank’s law. I reiterate that commitment.

I began my speech by saying that health and social care will require a significant increase in investment. That means an end to cuts to local councils. Since 2011, more than £1.5 billion has been cut from council budgets by the Scottish Government. The consequence is a social care system that is already under pressure without the growing demand that we know is on its way.

Last week, Age Scotland revealed that more than 8,500 people a year in Scotland wait longer than six weeks for a care assessment. Scottish Care’s survey showed that three quarters of care homes had vacancies for staff and that 90 per cent of care-at-home and housing support services had positions lying empty. Since the cabinet secretary promised to eradicate delayed discharge in May 2015, 680 people have died in hospital while waiting to be discharged.

We need to stop the cuts to local councils now—all of them, not just some of them. The Parliament can do that. We have the powers to make different choices, to be progressive and to say that, if we want decent social care, we need to fund it properly. That means being honest with the public and saying that those with the broadest shoulders will have to pay more to fund that extra social care.

I move amendment S5M-05312.3, to leave out from “believes that quality” to “control” and insert:

“calls on the Scottish Government to give carers the certainty and respect that they deserve by confirming a date when carers allowance will be increased; believes that quality social care is essential to many people’s health, dignity and control, and expresses concern at the impact on social care of cuts to local government budgets”.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We now move to the open debate. As I have said, we have time in hand.

15:16  

James Dornan (Glasgow Cathcart) (SNP)

There can hardly be a job that is more important than providing care for the most vulnerable members of society. The home carers workforce is among the most adaptable and committed workforces in the country. Home carers have a complex role that requires a wealth of knowledge. A home carer might be asked to work with children or those with a disability or, of course, to assist our elderly.

I recently read a carer’s post on Facebook, which went viral. Facebook is an online thing that people contact one another through, Presiding Officer.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

You should not antagonise me so early in your speech: I can be vindictive.

James Dornan

I am kind of hoping that you will cut my time.

The post sums up the feeling that has been outlined in the debate. It was by a carer—Jessica Gentry—in England, but carers from throughout England, Northern Ireland, Wales and, of course, Scotland commented on how accurate it was and how it resonated with them. Jessica Gentry said that she looked for signs of a stroke and waited for an ambulance, gave out 15 lots of medication, supported relatives, made 25 cups of tea, locked 17 doors, checked food supplies, and reassured patients with dementia. The list continued. When I saw that post, which was shared by carers in my constituency and throughout Scotland, I was deeply touched by it. To be frank, I was once again in awe of the amazing work that those people commit themselves to so diligently.

If a relative of mine was in need of care, I would hope that they would receive the best care that we were able to provide. In order for us to provide a full and comprehensive care package to those who are most in need, we must support those carers who are on the front line when it comes to provision.

Recently, I had a meeting with a group of home carers in my constituency. They are a passionate and committed group of carers who are determined to do the best for those they care for, but they are also determined to ensure that they get a fair deal. That meeting prompted me to ask the Government

“what action it can take to ensure that local authorities meet their moral and legal obligations in settling equal pay claims, and what discussions it has had with Glasgow City Council regarding this.”

That extremely hard-working and committed group of carers was being treated as though they were less than equal to men. I will go on to talk about gardeners and grave-diggers who work for the council. I completely accept that they do a very difficult job, but they are graded higher than those people, who maybe do some of the most difficult, and certainly some of the most important, jobs in society.

Homecare Glasgow became an arm’s-length body a number of years ago, and many of those involved in the equal pay fight claim that that was Glasgow City Council’s way of excluding those carers in the fight for pay equality. If that was the case, the council has been unsuccessful, as the home carers have become an integral part of the equal pay movement and are determined to get what is rightfully theirs.

I have spoken to Mark Irvine, who is one of the leading advocates for that campaign. He told me that part of the problem is that the carers provide a

“Cinderella service and ... they don’t have a traditional place of work which makes it harder for them to bring together involved parties such as outside bodies, family members and of course the client requiring care”.

As the demands on carers seem to be getting greater, it seems that authorities such as Glasgow City Council are more resistant to matching the demands with resources. Studies that campaign groups have done show that home carers are still not paid as well as those in more traditional male council roles, such as the gardeners and grave-diggers I mentioned. That is grossly unfair, and it is just not conducive to providing the best possible care for those who need it most. It is more than clear that those carers deserve the best support, pay and recognition that authorities have to offer.

I want to go back to the answer that Annie Wells gave Patrick Harvie. If you do not think that carers should be entitled to the living wage, and if attracting carers is not about pay and conditions, what do you think can be done to make the job more attractive to people? If you think that we need to attract people, as we clearly do, why did you vote against the £100 million that could have made caring more attractive for people? I am more than happy to take an intervention if you have a response to that.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I remind the member to use the member’s name rather than “you”, for the Official Report.

James Dornan

Sorry. I was addressing that to Annie Wells, Conservative MSP for the Glasgow region.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That is just a wee bit cheeky—

James Dornan

While we are discussing—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

No—sit down, Mr Dornan. You are verging on being a wee bit cheeky, and it is not going down well with me.

James Dornan

Sorry, Presiding Officer. You asked me to identify her.

While we are discussing care, it would be wrong of me not to mention home carers who are not employed by a governing body but who do it because they are a family member, friend or partner. Many people are unable to seek employment because they are committed to the care of a loved one. That is not only a vocation but a role that takes considerable strain off local authorities and organisations. Young carers in my constituency are among the most remarkable young people I have ever had the privilege of meeting. They often do a job that is beyond their years while trying to study and plan for their future. That is why I am thrilled that the Scottish Government is looking at a young carers allowance, which is another way of ensuring that the cared for and the carer are supported in equal measure.

When I was first elected as a councillor in 2007, my first official duty was to attend an event for young carers at Glasgow south-east carers centre. Before then, I just never had a clue. Honestly, I was completely blown away by what those young people had to do, the responsibilities that were placed on them and the way that they stood up to the challenges and took them on their shoulders while at the same time looking to better their lives. I am therefore really pleased that the Scottish Government is doing all that it can to ensure that those young people benefit and can go on to complete their education and, we hope, do whatever they want to do with their lives.

As has been mentioned, the Government has committed to taking carers allowance up to the level of jobseekers allowance, which will mean that carers will receive an extra £600 a year, which is an 18 per cent rise. The Tory cuts to disability benefits have had a catastrophic effect on many of those in Scotland who should be most looked after and protected by the system. In order for the Scottish Government to do that properly, it has to continue with appropriate consultation. I look forward to seeing legislation on the measure being passed following the proper parliamentary procedure.

I have to take Colin Smyth up on his point about that. The Opposition knows fine well that the Scottish Government has to do that in consultation with the Department for Work and Pensions. The Opposition knows that the Government is already in that process and that, until there is agreement with the DWP for that to be rolled out, it is very difficult to do it. The Opposition cannot ask for a date when we are in the process of trying to get the procedures in place.

Earlier this year, I saw a dig at the Scottish Government in the Evening Times by one of Mr Smyth’s colleagues, who seemed keen to criticise the Government, which is committed to getting it right when it comes to the new powers. However, I agree with Mr Sarwar when he said:

“Carers are the unsung heroes of our country. Thousands of people dedicate their lives to caring for others and save the government, particularly our NHS and social care system, billions of pounds because of their selfless care and attention.”

I should probably challenge Mr Sarwar on that. If he feels so strongly about carers, what about the carers who are paid by Glasgow City Council and who are being treated with what seems to me like complete and utter contempt in their fight for equal pay? When we stand up for carers, we must stand up for all of them, because no one role is worth more than another. That applies to those in private sector and third sector organisations, kinship carers and many more who are ensuring not only that the most vulnerable in our community are looked but that they continue to play a worthy and functioning part in that fairer Scotland that we all seek.

15:24  

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

I thank the Greens for bringing the issue to Parliament, because it is important that we discuss social care and carers. It is an issue that affects people directly and which will continue to impact on them when the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 comes into force next year.

One in six of Scotland’s population is an unpaid carer. There are 759,000 adult carers and 29,000 young carers. In 20 years’ time there could be 1 million carers in Scotland. Those are extraordinary statistics.

Carers do what they do not for money but for love. There might be many of us in the chamber who are carers, or who become carers, know a carer or need a carer at some point in our lives. It is important that the selfless people who look after others are given the rights and entitlements that flow from the act, such as the right to support if they qualify for it.

It is vital that sufficient resources are available to implement the new duties fully. The problem is that we do not know with any degree of certainty what that will cost. What we can be certain of is that the majority of costs—94 per cent—will fall on councils, which, as most of us know, have seen year-on-year cuts in their budget from the Scottish Government.

I will first talk about the broad financial scenario around social care before I come back to carers themselves. Audit Scotland said last year that current approaches to delivering social work services will not be sustainable in the long term. There is a clear risk that reducing costs further could affect the quality of services. It is pretty obvious that if the SNP squeeze on councils continues, some could simply change the rules on eligibility to make sure that fewer carers qualify for help. A well-meaning act of this Parliament could end up causing a worse situation.

The Minister for Public Health and Sport (Aileen Campbell)

The member is articulating a case that services require more investment. This Government has given local government a fair settlement. What is the member’s view of the fact that the Government has to spend £100 million mitigating the worst impacts of the welfare reforms that his party at Westminster has put on to Scotland?

Graham Simpson

The impact on councils comes from the money that this Government gives them, which has been cut year on year—that affects carers.

The number of adults in need of care is expected to increase by 30 per cent in under 10 years. That could place an intolerable strain on carers, with many simply giving up. Given that social care is already struggling to cope with the £1.1 billion of cuts made between 2010 and 2015, councils will find it increasingly difficult to find adequate resources to support carers and their families.

Funding for social care is in crisis and the Scottish Government has to do something about it.

Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

Will the member take an intervention?

Graham Simpson

Not just now.

There are huge challenges. Audit Scotland said:

“Social work departments are facing significant challenges because of a combination of financial pressures caused by a real-terms reduction in overall council spending, demographic change, and the cost of implementing new legislation and policies. If councils and IJBs continue to provide services in the same way, we have estimated that these changes require councils’ social work spending to increase by between £510 million and £667 million by 2020.”

Shona Robison

The member has said on three occasions that he thinks that local government should get more money. Will he say how much more money and where that money has to come from?

Graham Simpson

The cabinet secretary knows that that is a matter of choice. The SNP Government—her Government—has taken the choice year on year to cut councils’ budgets. That is a choice—the SNP Government has chosen to penalise councils across the country.

I turn to carers. There is a financial impact on people if they become a carer. One third of carers are struggling to pay utility bills, 47 per cent have been in debt and half are struggling to make ends meet. They cut back on essentials such as food and heating. The main carers benefit is worth just £62.10 for a minimum of 35 hours a week, yet carers’ value to us all is huge. In 2015, a Carers UK report estimated that the value of carers’ contributions in Scotland was £10.8 billion.

In the Scottish Conservative 2016 manifesto we called for carers allowance to be aligned with jobseekers allowance, benefiting 60,000 more people. Carers Scotland agrees with that, and I thank it for its useful briefing ahead of the debate.

Many carers find that their career and promotion opportunities are affected, and that they have to reduce their hours or give up work altogether. Carers who have given up work to care also find it difficult to return to the workplace. Almost a third have been out of the workplace for 10 years or more. A quarter of the carers not currently in work say they would like to return to work, and almost two thirds would like to return when their caring role has ended.

Carers care, and we should care for them. They deserve a break now and then. Providing short break opportunities for carers and those they care for is vital, but the availability and choice of short breaks for carers across Scotland vary considerably. There is growing evidence of significant cuts to existing levels of service provision.

I close by quoting from a briefing sent in by Marie Curie that sums it up:

“Caring for those with long-term illness and coming to the end of life can be all-encompassing. Carers face increasing demands and challenges on their time as the condition of the person they care for deteriorates. Many carers of people with a terminal illness do not see themselves as carers but simply as people looking after loved ones.”

Carers deserve our full support.

15:31  

Kate Forbes (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP)

A person who was far better and wiser than I am said:

“The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”

In today’s debate, I want to push that further and say that how we support those who care for our most vulnerable people, and who give so much of their time, energy and care to those who need it most, demonstrates how much we value our most vulnerable people. For too long, carers have been undersupported, undervalued and underpaid, which is an indictment of how we have cared for those who care, both paid and unpaid.

My two sisters work as carers and I am absolutely in awe of their hard work. Last summer, after I was first elected, I was asked by a friend how busy I was, as I stood next to my sister, who had been doing 12-hour shifts of backbreaking, emotionally intensive and pressured work. I thought, “Ask her! She’s the hero here.” Then last Sunday, as I was getting ready to go to my nice warm bed, my other sister was travelling across Edinburgh at 10 pm to do a sleepover, which probably had very little to do with sleep. I think that my sisters are pretty incredible, but I respect them even more for the work that they do for the sake of others. It is not easy, but it is of enormous value. My sisters, and all other carers in Scotland—paid and unpaid—are absolutely brilliant.

I am sure that our rhetoric is caring and supportive, but our actions are what really count. That is why it is not only unfair that support, in the form of carers allowance, is the lowest of all working-age benefits; it also demonstrates that our actions have fallen seriously short of caring for carers. I am really pleased that we will, when our Government gets the power to do so, increase carers allowance. I am also pleased that the Scottish Government will allocate an additional £100 million for continuing delivery of the living wage to adult care workers for sustainability in the sector. I hope that that attracts more people into the vital role of caring, and that it sends a message to current carers that they are greatly valued and we could not do without them. I also hope that it raises the status and the image of social care as a profession further.

Lack of carers is certainly a challenge in the Highlands, as we have seen recently in the news, when the Haven care home in Uig announced that it is closing because of difficulty in finding carers. That is a challenge for other residential care homes, especially in the Highlands and the smaller rural places, where there being fewer beds makes it harder to make ends meet. The challenge is then for the elderly people who may have to move quite a distance away from home or, perhaps, away from a partner who might not be able to travel to visit them. Our attracting and retaining the right people in the right places goes right to the heart of treating people with dignity, respect and fairness when they need care, wherever they live.

Delivery of community-based services through integration of healthcare and social care means that rural residents can get the care and support that they need, and can stay in their homes for longer. That takes on greater importance in the rural Highlands because there are other challenges for the people who care in the community—not the least of which is their having to travel many miles in a day. Support for carers should therefore recognise the added pressures of working in rural areas, if we are to recruit enough carers to care for the people who need care in the Highlands.

Each carer is unique and meets the unique needs of the people for whom they care. Almost one in five of Scotland’s adult population is a carer, and there are, according to Carers Scotland, almost 30,000 young carers under the age of 16—4 per cent of the under-16 population. Those figures do not include the hidden carers who have not been identified and are not being supported by services.

The caring role of unpaid carers is usually an extension of their love for family, friends and neighbours. However, they still experience the sleepless nights, the heavy physical work, the potential for loneliness and isolation, and the unlikelihood of a break or a holiday. On top of that, they perhaps also have a full-time job or are in full-time studies, and perhaps struggle to pay utility or food bills.

For young carers, there are real challenges in continuing with education in school, college or university, so it is important that we do everything that we can to support those young people so that they do not lose out because of the demands of their caring role. That is why the Scottish Government funded the College Development Network to design and deliver an online resource for learners who have caring responsibilities. Although we do not collect annual data on the number of young carers who are in part-time study, an action planning tool is available to help colleges to improve identification of and to meet the needs of student carers, so that we can support them as much as possible.

With the devolution of more social security powers, it is important that we not only consider the people who receive care, but think about how we support the people who deliver that care. I am proud to be part of a Parliament, and to support a Government, that puts dignity, respect and fairness at the very heart of how we care for those who need care, and of how we care for those who deliver care.

15:37  

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

I declare an interest in that I am a councillor. This is probably the final time that I will declare that interest. I also declare my financial contribution of the final year of my council salary that I made to Stirling Carers Centre, which is a wonderful organisation that supports young people who cope with the most unimaginable level of responsibility in their lives.

Alison Johnstone told us earlier that unpaid carers save the Scottish economy £10.8 billion every year. Carers allowance is a small recognition of the value of unpaid care work, but it is paid at far too low a rate and is subject to a set of hugely complex rules. Under carers allowance, caring for no less than 35 hours a week equates to £1.70 an hour at current rates. That drops to just pennies for carers who provide 24/7 care. No wonder many carers describe feeling insulted by the level of carers allowance that they receive.

I very much welcome the Scottish Government’s plans to increase the value of the benefit to match jobseekers allowance, at £73. However, JSA is intended to be a short-term payment, and about 90 per cent of claimants claim for only a matter of months. Recipients of carers allowance tend to claim for many years, and incur a range of additional costs in the course of caring. Carers allowance, which is formally intended only to replace income that is lost through the carer not being able to work, does not reflect that.

For these reasons, the Green Party’s Holyrood manifesto pledged to increase carers allowance by 50 per cent, to £93. I encourage the Scottish Government to consider a two-part benefit, as is advocated by Carers Scotland among others, which would replace lost income and cover additional costs, with a premium being available for people who care for more than one person.

However, that is not the only change that is needed. Carers allowance is riddled with complexities and unfairness. For example, if a person is paid carers allowance, the person whom they care for loses their severe disability premium in their applicable amount for means-tested benefits. That means that it may not always be financially worth the carer’s while to claim, which partly explains the low take-up. It would help enormously to ensure that the Scottish carers allowance does not count as income when benefits and care charges are being assessed.

I turn to the important role of the waged care sector and the contribution that dedicated workers make to the daily care of tens of thousands of people across Scotland. A few short years ago, we saw much criticism of the state of homecare services across the UK, but there was little, if any, consideration of the experiences of the people who work in the sector. In order to understand those experiences better, Unison launched a major survey of care workers and published a report entitled “Time to Care”. The report revealed the shocking state of the sector, with poor pay and working conditions driving down the morale of a dedicated but downtrodden workforce.

Four out of five workers experienced what is called call cramming, whereby appointments are stacked with not enough time to meet clients’ needs, or even to factor in travel from one appointment to the next. The frustration and shame of workers who were being forced to leave clients before their needs had been met was leading many carers selflessly to support clients in their own unpaid time.

The survey found that over half of workers were not paid for time between visits, which was potentially breaching minimum wage laws. More than half of workers were paid between the basic minimum wage and only £8 an hour. Many workers saw the impacts on their clients as they were switched from one worker to another, which caused distress, particularly among clients with dementia.

Added to those problems were a lack of formal routes through which to report clients’ concerns, little training on specific medical conditions and lack of contact time with fellow co-workers, so it is understandable that recruitment and retention was a major problem. For many people, a job in the supermarket was better paid, with better terms and conditions.

On the back of “Time to Care”, Unison launched the ethical care charter for councils to sign up to. It set a new minimum baseline for the safety, quality and dignity of care. It acknowledged that to deliver better services we need more sustainable pay, conditions and training for workers. The Scottish Government has moved on the living wage element of that by ensuring that since last year a budget has been delivered to pay adult social care workers the Scottish living wage. However, there are still questions about whether people who work in child social care are getting the living wage. I hear repeatedly, around the doors, anecdotal evidence that some care workers are not receiving the living wage, and I have been hearing concerns about the lack of contract monitoring of some councils. I would like the minister to address those points directly.

The ethical care charter needs to be implemented in full by every council in Scotland, so I congratulate North Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire councils, which have signed up to do that. I pushed the charter hard in my council in Stirling, and although it has stopped short of signing up in full, it is 95 per cent of the way there. The remaining legacy contracts will be addressed in the months ahead.

Putting the needs of clients first in how services are timed and delivered, while supporting the training and support of care workers, matters. Applying a decent living wage of £9.20 an hour, ensuring sick pay and ending zero-hours contracts and unpaid travel time will build a workforce that is respected and valued for the incredible work that it does. Our carers, waged and unwaged, are unsung heroes. They deserve the support of us all in Parliament and in council chambers across Scotland.

15:43  

Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

This has been an extremely interesting debate on a significant and important matter, so I am delighted to contribute to it. I join other members in paying tribute to those who work in the social care sector and those who care for loved ones, often unpaid and thanklessly, because of their love for and commitment to the person for whom they care. It is right that we dedicate a parliamentary debate to carers and the role that they play, so I commend the Scottish Green Party for doing so. Although our amendment takes a different tack to the Green Party motion, there is much on which we can agree.

This type of debate may be technical at times, but our actions always affect a real person—a care worker, a young person caring for a parent or a parent caring for a vulnerable child.

This week is multiple sclerosis awareness week, and carers play a huge role in caring for people with MS. I draw attention to George Adam’s members’ business debate, which will follow decision time. I look forward to participating in it, and I hope that many other members also participate.

I will focus on social care, and I will cover an area that has for some time come under close scrutiny: retention and recruitment of staff. The subject is pertinent across Scotland, but because I represent a particularly rural area I am acutely aware of issues around the need to find car drivers for carers, issues about travel to and from appointments during working hours, sleepovers, and the pressure around keeping remote and rural care homes open. Kate Forbes mentioned one such care home; I must mention Auchinlee care home in Campbeltown and Struan lodge care home in Dunoon—I recently visited and met staff there.

On staffing, this month The Herald ran a story focusing on research that was carried out by the voice of the independent care sector, Scottish Care, which found that more than three quarters of care homes have unfilled staff vacancies and that nine in 10 care-at-home service providers say that they have difficulty in filling positions. That should not come as a surprise—members of the Health and Sport Committee heard evidence last September from representatives of the care sector and carers. I will touch on a few of the issues that were raised at that meeting, because I believe that it is vital that we take on board the opinions of those who work in the care sector and those who represent the workforce.

Donald Macaskill, who is the chief executive of Scottish Care, spoke about the difficulty in recruiting new staff due to the fact that

“many individuals do not find working with people in care attractive. Society—and Scotland as a whole—does not value those who work in caring for old people”.—[Official Report, Health and Sport Committee, 13 September 2016; c 4.]

Scottish Care has also highlighted the shortage of nurses in care homes and the vacancy rates. Given the large proportion of care that is provided by the independent care sector on behalf of local authorities, that is highly concerning.

Annie Gunner Logan from the Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland argued that how care is currently delivered in Scotland is not sustainable. She was critical of workforce planning and how care is procured by care providers. In her evidence, she said that it has become very difficult for care providers to plan ahead on the basis of existing framework contracts, which, as she stated,

“means that they have no sense of ... the number of people they might have to support in future or the number of hours of support that they might have to provide.”

It is clear from that evidence that working in care is often seen as unattractive. Given the issues that that raises for the workforce and care providers, we have a system that is in many ways unworkable and unmanageable.

An interesting point that others have made this afternoon, and to which Annie Gunner Logan referred, is the startling and worrying claim that

“it would not be ... much longer before every single school leaver would have to go into the care sector if it was to be kept afloat.”—[Official Report, Health and Sport Committee, 13 September 2016; c 4, 5.]

Similarly, evidence that was presented to the Health and Sport Committee last September suggested that 60,000 new social care workers are required in order to meet the demands of the ageing population. That is a particularly stark point. It is also true to say that the staffing issue cuts across both the independent and the public care sectors.

On staff morale, a survey that was carried out by the Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services showed that the workforce in Scotland is not only increasingly ageing but is increasingly overburdened. In the survey, 62 per cent of carers said that they had to do additional work most weeks, and almost nine in 10 said that they had seen a reduction in the amount of support that was available to service users. As other members from across the chamber have pointed out, in layman’s terms that means that the people on the ground have less time to do what they do best, which is to care for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. As one carer put it in the survey,

“Staff are pushed more and more and more”.

Carers Scotland noted that 80 per cent of carers feel that their personal health is worse because of their job.

Given that the current average rate of staff turnover sits at 22 per cent, it is clear that there is a major problem that requires solutions. I have been in Parliament for almost a year now, and a large part of my debating time has been spent highlighting the staffing crisis across the NHS and the social care sector. Recruitment and retention have been highlighted time and again by professional bodies and in the Health and Sport Committee, and the Scottish Government urgently needs to put in place a plan to deal with the issues.

It is clear that we need to make caring a more attractive career option, and that we need to break down the barriers that stop people from entering the profession. We need now more than ever to listen to the professionals in order to learn why the problems persist and are, increasingly, being exacerbated.

Above all, we have an opportunity in this Parliament to set social care on the right footing so that it can operate to the benefit of staff and, most important, of the people for whom they care.

15:49  

Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

The motion that is before us and the Scottish Government amendment mention Brexit. The Local Government and Communities Committee, which I convene, has heard serious concerns about the potential impact of Brexit on carers and social care. We conducted a number of evidence sessions in which we heard from various organisations, including the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Trades Union Congress. We heard that it can be difficult to recruit and retain staff in social care and to have staff view social care as a first-choice career that is of significant value to society.

Carers in the social care sector are worth their weight in gold, but they are not always paid their weight in gold—that is for sure, and we have heard concerns about that today. That is why the move towards the real living wage, which is underpinned by £125 million of funding, is a significant step forward by the Scottish Government. It is wonderful that there are aspirations to go further, but let us acknowledge the fantastic success that the Scottish Government has achieved.

In that context, we view Brexit with associated concerns about the end of the freedom of movement of people, particularly because of its impact on key sectors such as social care. In her evidence, Helen Martin of the STUC said:

“In local government, one of the key areas that are at risk is social care, in which many foreign nationals work. It is, potentially, at particular risk of not being able to fill roles if we do not have access to EU labour.”

The Conservatives have spoken about the staff crisis in social care, yet they will stymie access to one of our biggest sources of quality labour that is required to meet the needs of older people. That is a ridiculous dichotomy that the Conservatives cannot explain.

The head of COSLA, Councillor David O’Neill, said:

“Within our health service, the number of people who come from outwith the UK is critical. An awful lot of childcare workers and other care workers are from outwith the UK. If such people lose the ability to come to Scotland, it will be a really big problem for us”.—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 14 December 2016; c 32, 31.]

It is not me as a Government back bencher who is saying that on behalf of the Government; it is COSLA and the STUC that are saying that. It is also the Conservatives that are saying that, but they are causing the problem with Brexit.

I will say a bit about my family’s care experience, which I know from my constituency casework is not uncommon. Older citizens often live in a household of two carers, as people in couples support and care for each other. Partners who are both in frail health provide care for each other; a co-dependency model is the case in many a household.

My mother was elderly and frail and had vascular dementia. Although my father was younger, he had various health conditions over many years, as well as long-term mobility issues. My mother lived the last year of her life in a care home. My father was still at home until he eventually went into a hospice and passed away from lung cancer six months later.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing for all of us. Although, to be fair, West Dunbartonshire Council provided a high level of at-home support, I suspect that my mother would have benefited from a residential support placement far earlier than she got it—and that applies to my father, too. I am not sure what models of residential support exist in such circumstances. The model of residential support needs to be advanced.

Why would we not consider identifying a joint care home placement for a couple who are hurtling towards an obvious need for residential care? Why would we compound bereavement in a family by tearing one lifelong partner away from the other in order to put one of them in residential care? When the second partner needs residential care, the opportunity of having a co-located care placement is almost non-existent, and the two people must live in different care homes.

That was not the situation in my mother and father’s case, but I know that it occurs, because I have such a constituency case at the moment. I have not asked the person involved whether I can share the full details, so I will say merely that I have a constituency case in which it looks as if that might become the situation. I am not criticising the local authority or the integration joint board. I am not sure whether models are available to work that one out, but we have to do that as an imperative going forward, with an ever-ageing population.

It is a good thing that we have an ever-ageing population but, when people are living to be older and more frail, why do we separate them from lifelong partners? That is the wrong thing to do. We must build models of residential support that can address that. I hope that, at some point, the Scottish Government can do that.

I will say a little about health and social care integration and restate some of the housing issues that I raised in the debate last week that was led by Neil Findlay, as convener of the Health and Sport Committee. Those issues link into the care tax, personal care that is free at the point of need, and the increasing and advancing of free personal care.

I have a couple of constituency cases in which the only way to keep the people concerned—who own their house but are on a low income—at home would be to build an extension. We must put in financial models that can make that happen. As I said last week, I understand the issue that there is equity in such houses. Models need to be available that can sustain such people at home while protecting the public purse.

I have another constituent who owns their flat and desperately needs ground-level accommodation. We must make sure that health and social care services and the housing association in question—I hope that it will buy back the flat—work seamlessly to ensure not only that my vulnerable constituent is protected but that the public purse is protected and the arrangement is sustainable.

I am trying to be consensual by suggesting ways in which we could develop the system. I genuinely feel that we have not had such suggestions from Labour or Conservative members, who have talked about council cuts.

I will make a point in relation to alleged council cuts. The leader of Glasgow City Council, Councillor Frank McAveety, talks about cuts in that local authority area, but he never includes the additional moneys for health and social care integration. In evidence to the Local Government and Communities Committee as part of the budget process, he said:

“£33 million was the element of IJB resource allocation that was made to the council. Half of that had to meet the living wage obligations”—

that is a good thing; those are my words, but I am sure that Mr McAveety thinks that it is a good thing, too—

“the other half was for pressures in social work services.”—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 9 November 2016; c 5.]

In Labour’s figures, that £33 million does not count, but the leader of the largest council in Scotland told our committee that that money is making a difference.

As for the Conservatives, who relentlessly cut resources to Scotland, shame on them for calling for more money for local social services when they will not say where a penny of it would come from.

In my speech, I have sought to challenge my party’s Government on areas in which the system must be improved. In doing so, I have sought to be consensual, and I hope that other members will continue in the same vein.

15:57  

Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

I thank the Scottish Green Party for lodging such an important motion for debate, and I assure it of our support. I also declare an interest in respect of the fact that, before I entered Parliament, I worked for the children’s charity Aberlour, which provides a range of support services to children with disabilities and their families.

I share the sentiments of every member who has spoken in the debate of their belief that carers in Scotland are without question the unsung heroes of our nation. We rely on them to fill the gap that we cannot meet in the delivery of health and personal care services to the tune of somewhere north of £11 billion a year. We rely on them to respond with flexibility and speed to the needs of the people they care for when the situation deteriorates, and we rely on them to accept the monumental disruption that late-night emergencies, protracted hospital stays and red tape in the welfare system can all cause in their daily lives.

Every week, I seek to help constituents who are working their hearts out to provide care for the children they love, which they seem to do in near isolation. I am talking about people such as Khalida Hussein, who was relieved to finally get a diagnosis for her severely autistic son a year ago, only to discover that that meant joining an even longer waiting list for assessment and resource allocation, which she is yet to receive; Elspeth Martin, who is keen to use her own resources to provide an additional support worker for her son to support his learning in school, but who has been told that she cannot because of a council policy that does not even exist; and Caroline Muir, whose teenage son has ricocheted from school to school following exclusion after exclusion as a result of challenging behaviour that is linked to Asperger’s, to the point that I have helped her to submit a section 70 complaint to the Scottish ministers, so badly has she been let down. I add that each of those constituents has given me their express permission to name them.

Our knowledge that such people will not turn away from loved ones, even though they often exist on the edge of poverty, isolation and sometimes even surrender, amounts to a kind of exploitation, whereby we as policy makers in this place, by not fully meeting the calls of carers and organisations, are complicit.

We answered some of those calls in the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 in the previous parliamentary session, but we have still a great distance to travel, particularly on access to meaningful respite. It is a failure that is most stark when we consider Scotland’s young carers. We estimate that there are 29,000 young carers under the age of 16 in Scotland. I say “estimate” because identification is a problem—many young people who care for either a parent or a sibling may not realise that the duties that they carry out at home are not normal, or that they are deserving of greater support. Many soldier on in the shadows, and we identify them through chance encounters through teachers, general practitioners or social workers. We need to train our workforce better to close that gap and identify young carers sooner, and equip them with the tools to answer the needs of those vulnerable young people.

We put far too little value on the service that is provided by the 750,000 friends, family members and neighbours who, on any given day in Scotland, provide a caring role. We seldom offer them thanks and, more often than not, when the needs and the demands of their role increase, we meet that change in circumstance with indifferent expectation. Those people deserve to be treated with dignity and to have adequate recognition for the grace, compassion and dedication that they show in the service that they provide. I ask the minister in her closing remarks to act on the sentiment of the Labour Party amendment, make good on the SNP manifesto commitment and name the date on which this Parliament will use its new powers to increase the level of carers allowance. The minister has the votes of the majority of members—we lack only the opportunity to cast them.

Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

Alex Cole-Hamilton mentioned the increase in carers allowance. I will mention that in my contribution later, but the reason why it has not been introduced now is that we have to work with Westminster at the moment. We cannot just introduce it straight away. We all want to introduce it but, speaking as convener of the Social Security Committee, I know that we cannot do that just now.

Alex Cole-Hamilton

I absolutely recognise the role that Westminster has in the delay. However, I would like to see a clearer understanding of the timetable that the Scottish Government favours for introducing the increase.

How much we value care in our society is discernible from the criminally low levels of pay that are offered to our professional care workforce, which in turn is linked to resource allocation to families who commission care either directly or through the local authorities. Although local authorities cite a balance in favour of quality over cost when it comes to commissioning, there are examples up and down the land of providers paring back cost to the bare minimum to meet their contractual obligations, incorporating travel time into the hourly rate—a particular problem in rural areas—and paying staff poverty wages while taking a mark-up skim from the advertised rate.

On a number of occasions, my fellow members of the Health and Sport Committee have met members of the workforce who cite the compassion that they have for those for whom they care as the only reason why they do not jack the whole thing in and stack shelves in a supermarket for the same money. No wonder the market is so barren; caring should be a career of the highest esteem, enriching both in the interpersonal warmth that passes between caregiver and receiver and in the financial recompense that caregivers receive for that role. We want primary school children to fantasise about growing up to be a caregiver and we want foreign workers to see Scotland as a country of choice to relocate and enter the profession. We need a culture shift at every level of government in Scotland to make that happen, and it is only the lack of political will to do so that stands in our way.

I was asked this morning on “Good Morning Scotland” how we would pay for that approach. The answer is blindingly simple: when my constituent stays an extra 150 nights in Liberton hospital because there is not a social care package available for him to go home to, the cost of that failure is self-evident and that blockage in social care capacity then impacts on every other level of our health service.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

Will the member give way?

Alex Cole-Hamilton

I am in my final minute.

Put simply, we cannot afford not to.

I would like to finish with a personal tribute to the carers in our society—to those known personally and related to me and to those grafting away in homes up and down this country. They are the backbone of health and social care in our society and they are the pride of our nation.

16:04  

Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

I am pleased to speak in the debate. I am also one of those who has had the opportunity to speak with a number of carers and care providers in their constituency, particularly in the past year. I believe that it is only by meeting carers and hearing from them at first hand that we can appreciate the specific challenges that they face and understand how their lives can be improved. This point was touched on earlier, but it needs to be stressed: anyone can be a carer at some point in their life. I think that we all know someone who is a carer—I certainly do. When I was a young boy, my grandmother came to live with us and my mother became her carer.

Dementia is unfair; it does not discriminate and it can take anyone. In that regard, Kopel’s law has been mentioned a few times in the debate. I welcome the research that the Union of European Football Associations has commissioned into the possible link between heading a football and getting dementia. Many members will be sympathetic to the Kopel’s law campaign, as I am. I am sure that the research will be very advantageous when it is published and I welcome the fact that Scotland is the first country in the world to produce national guidance on dealing with concussion in sport.

I will address a number of points that colleagues have made in the debate. James Dornan spoke in his contribution to the debate about the Tory cuts agenda. I thought that that was a strong point to make, bearing in mind the mitigation measures that the Scottish Government has had to introduce to deal with Tory cuts and policies in recent years. The more mitigation measures the Scottish Government has to undertake, the less money is available to invest in other areas that the Scottish Parliament would want money to go into.

Graham Simpson used the phrase “a matter of choice” when referring to some of the Scottish Government’s decisions. I genuinely believe that that was an off-the-cuff remark by Mr Simpson, but it came 24 hours after we debated the rape clause, which is a Tory Government policy that Mr Simpson voted in favour of yesterday.

Graham Simpson

Will the member take an intervention?

Stuart McMillan

I will take one in a moment.

Mr Simpson also used the phrase “a matter of choice” with regard to the issue of carers. However, the Scottish Government has been told that the UK Government’s current eligibility criteria for carers allowance limits carers’ ability to work or study. That is a matter of choice for the UK Government.

Graham Simpson

Stuart McMillan will have heard me talking about the choice that the Scottish Government has made to cut councils’ budgets year on year. That is what I was referring to. Surely he must admit that that is a fact.

Stuart McMillan

No. I referred to Mr Simpson using the phrase “a matter of choice”. He will agree that every Government has to make decisions and that the Government in London, which he supports, introduced the heinous policy that we debated in the chamber yesterday.

Donald Cameron referred to the Scottish Government needing to put “a plan in place” and set things on “the right footing”. However, what Mr Cameron did not do was offer any options for doing that or say where the money would come from. Alex Cole-Hamilton at least indicated in his closing comments an area for savings to the health service.

Miles Briggs

Will the member take an intervention on that point?

Stuart McMillan

Do I have time, Presiding Officer?

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

I can allow time for the intervention, Mr McMillan.

Miles Briggs

The Scottish Government will receive £800 million from additional Barnett consequentials this year, which is extra money that can help pay for health and care policies. Does the member not want to acknowledge that fact? Obviously, it does not fit his political agenda, but the fact is that the Scottish Parliament is receiving £800 million in Barnett consequentials.

Stuart McMillan

Mr Briggs is forgetting, or omitting, to tell the chamber and anyone listening about the level of cuts that the UK Government has imposed on the Scottish Parliament and Government over many years.

Carers are often the unsung heroes in our country, and the thousands of people who dedicate their lives to caring for others save the Government—in particular, our national health service and social care system—billions of pounds a year through their selfless care and attention.

We have heard that there are just under 800,000 registered carers, but a matter that is raised with me time and again when I talk to carers is the number of carers who are not registered. The actual number of carers will be well in excess of 800,000, and we in the Parliament need to recognise that. The same applies to young carers. We have 29,000 registered young carers, but the actual number will be higher. A young carer is any child or young person below the age of 18 who takes on caring responsibilities, and I genuinely believe that society owes all those who take a caring role a massive debt of gratitude.

I am conscious of the time, although I did take a couple of interventions. The provisions in the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 will ensure that there is better and more consistent support for carers and young carers so that they can continue to care, if they so wish, in better health and also have a life alongside caring.

Despite what we have heard from some of the Conservative members today, the Scottish Government is working with councils and health boards to agree what needs to be done to shape the future of health and social care over the next 20 years, and the Scottish Government is determined to make a real difference to people’s lives with the responsibilities that we have. This Government and certainly the members on these benches recognise the vital role that carers fulfil in our society in caring for family, friends and neighbours, including some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

16:12  

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate and I thank the Greens for bringing it to the chamber. I would like to focus on the role of young carers and the challenges that they face. There are certainly tens of thousands of young carers in Scotland, although some estimates suggest that there might be upwards of 100,000. Most of those young carers are still in school and take on the role of carer not by choice but by circumstance. No one looking on could tell them apart from any other teenager—but, then again, they are still normal teenagers. They are full of hopes and aspirations for the future, they are ambitious to continue their education and build careers in the world of work, and they want to spend their weekends and evenings in the company of their friends.

With colleagues from across the Parliament, I attended the Scottish young carers festival last year, and I think that it is fair to say that we were blown away by the energy and enthusiasm that greeted us. I have to be honest and say that, until I had the opportunity to attend that event, speak to young carers, listen to what they had to say and mix with them, it was an area that I did not know enough about. Like many members, I knew what a young carer was, but I did not know who they were.

During the event, we watched as young carers acted out real situations that happen to them daily. We heard how, every day, they can be late for school, not get the chance to complete homework or arrive at a class tired, and myriad other issues can arise through no fault of their own because they have caring duties for a family member at home.

One of the biggest issues for young carers is not the effects of those responsibilities but others’ lack of knowledge and the lack of understanding that they sometimes receive from others. When teachers and classmates do not understand a young carer’s situation or make allowances for their added responsibility, it can make life that much harder for them. When lateness is perceived as rudeness, or a failure to do homework is written off as laziness, it only increases the feelings of isolation and loneliness that are all too often a feature of the life of a young carer.

The flip side of that coin is that just a little bit more understanding of the role of young carers can make a big difference to their experiences. Many young carers are fortunate and already have teachers, friends and even employers who understand their situation and adapt to it, but there is little by way of consistency across the country. Teachers have a vital role to play in the lives of all their pupils, but for young carers they can also be a vital source of support and advice for people who have had to grow up that little bit too fast. Understanding costs nothing, but it can make a huge difference to young carers.

Like all of us in the chamber, I regularly receive emails from charities and other organisations, with briefings about issues such as social care. Indeed, I received a number of them before this debate. Although such briefings can be very useful and informative, I do not believe that there is a better way to understand an issue such as this one than to sit down and listen to the personal experiences of people who live with it every day.

At the young carers festival, a round-table discussion gave young carers the chance to speak to MSPs and tell us more about how we could help them—and, boy, did they tell us. Frankly, when it comes to holding politicians to account and asking difficult questions, they could teach some of us in the chamber a thing or two. However, that only helped to reinforce both the importance of the issue and the incredible resilience of young carers. To hear the practicalities of what they face on a day-to-day basis is exactly what we need. Hearing someone tell us that they have to take the bus to the chemist to pick up a prescription and pay for the round trip out of their own pocket cannot help but have an impact on the way we think. We can sit and read reports all day, but few of them will be as compelling as listening while a younger person—in that case, someone younger than my own daughter—talks about the sacrifices that they have made to care for someone else.

It is only right to acknowledge that the Government has made significant changes to social care during its time in office. I recognise, from across the chamber, its willingness to continue to improve the lives of carers. It is also fair to say that one of the biggest issues facing carers is lack of income. The Scottish Conservatives have called for carers allowance to rise to in line with jobseekers allowance—a move that would benefit more than 60,000 people. However, perhaps there are ways, other than through carers allowance, in which we can support and value young carers. For example, I would like to look at the possibility of free public transport for young carers—both to reduce the costs associated with their roles as carers and to make life a bit easier for them beyond caring. In education, can we provide more opportunities for flexible or distance learning, giving not just young carers but all carers the chance to learn and to improve their career chances?

We cannot simply walk down a street and pick out the people who are most likely to be a carer; they are all different. Just as carers do not fit any particular mould, we should not be too prescriptive or narrow in how we choose to support them. By all means, let us increase carers allowance. Let us do everything that we can to make sure that they are not at a financial disadvantage through being carers, but let us also think beyond just how we can improve the lives of carers with money.

Aileen Campbell

Will the member give way?

Brian Whittle

I am in my last minute—I am sorry.

Aileen Campbell

Is there any flex?

Brian Whittle

Presiding Officer, is there any flexibility on time to enable me to take an intervention?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

There is if you wish it, Mr Whittle.

Brian Whittle

I will happily give way to Ms Campbell.

Aileen Campbell

I thank Brian Whittle for some of the views, opinions and concerns that he has raised. What does he feel about the UK Government taking away Motability cars from some of the most vulnerable people in our society?

Brian Whittle

If it is all the same to the minister, I will stick to the task in hand. I understand that her question speaks to her political persuasion to try to attack the Conservatives as much as she can. Perhaps she will take that point into another debate; let us stick to this one.

Parliament needs to do more to improve public knowledge of the role of carers and, through that, to encourage greater flexibility and understanding for carers in everyday life. The role of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament is not just to care for carers but to make sure that others care about them. Charles Dickens said:

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”

Just as carers lighten the burden of those they care for, it is surely up to us to lighten their burden.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The last of the open debate speeches will be from Sandra White.

16:18  

Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

I thank Alison Johnstone for bringing to the chamber this very important issue for debate including, as mentioned in the Scottish Green Party motion, the issue of young adult carers—particularly those who are in education. I know, from visiting the many colleges and universities in my constituency in Glasgow Kelvin, that that is a very real issue for students. There are over 6,000 students who identify themselves as carers. Obviously, there will be more, but there are about 6,300, I think, who identify themselves as students with caring issues.

I congratulate the students’ groups that I have met and that carry out work to address the very important issue of student carers. I also want to highlight the College Development Network, which is funded by the Scottish Government and delivers an online resource for learners. That is most welcome, but students who have caring responsibilities have told me that they would dearly love to be able to attend college or university. If my memory serves me correctly, one student told me that attending gives them a sense of normality. I think that we can all understand that, so I look forward to the day when we can enable them to do so.

Miles Briggs

How does the member think that the Scottish Government cutting 120,000 part-time college places will help carers to get into training?

Sandra White

We hear from the caring Tories again. Perhaps if the Tories who are sitting over there did their homework, they would see that those places were not cut. Why has no Tory MSP mentioned that the Tories voted against the provision of £100 million for a wage rise for carers? No one has mentioned that. I ask the Tories please to stop this caring-Tories approach—we saw the toxic version yesterday, and I am sure that the Tories have not changed much since then.

I am grateful for the work of the College Development Network. If we want students to participate and enjoy the sense of normality that that student told me about, we need to ensure that facilities and support packages are in place for them, as many members said.

That brings me to the young carers allowance. We need to provide extra support for young people who have caring responsibilities, and we need to increase carers allowance to the level of jobseekers allowance.

Let me respond to Colin Smyth’s comments and the call in the Labour amendment for the Government to confirm when carers allowance will be increased. As convener of the Social Security Committee, I agree with members of the committee and groups who have given evidence to the committee that the increase is a key policy that must be delivered. However, we need to work with the Westminster Parliament on that, as I said in my intervention during Alex Cole-Hamilton’s speech—he is not in the chamber at the moment. The Social Security Committee and the Scottish Affairs Committee in Westminster have met—we have met twice, which is historic—to try to iron out some of the issues in the benefits system in relation to the transfer of powers. I should say that powers in relation to only 15 per cent of social security spend are being transferred. There have been some sticky moments and letters have gone back and forth to ministers, including joint letters from Pete Wishart, who is chair of the relevant Westminster committee, and me. In one letter, we said that we wanted a review of the agreement between the Scottish Government and the DWP, to ensure that

“claimants do not lose out through the transfer of welfare powers and that they benefit when new powers are exercised.”

We need to deliver the policy as soon as possible, but I think that we all agree that we must deliver it properly. That is a key point. We should not build up people’s hopes when we cannot deliver something tomorrow or next week; we must ensure that there is a smooth transition and that people do not fall through the cracks—I know that Mr Smyth did not mean to do that in his comments or in the Labour motion. However, we need to look at the policy and get it right.

Colin Smyth

Will the member explain what the delay is? The minutes of the meeting in February seem to imply that the minister wanted to consider information from the DWP. What exactly is causing the delay in bringing proposals to this Parliament?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Mr Smyth’s microphone did not appear to be working properly—oh, I see that Mr Smyth had not put his card in the console. Ms White, did you hear his intervention?

Sandra White

I did. Mr Smyth mentioned the February meeting. The delay is on the Westminster side. We need to ensure that we have this absolutely right; my understanding is that the delay is on the Westminster side, which is why the Scottish Government has asked the DWP to take forward a feasibility study to consider the best way to deliver the policy. I know that Mr Smyth and the Labour Party do not mean to cause unnecessary distress to claimants, but we really must get this right, and we should not be suggesting to people that we are dragging our feet.

I know that I am running out of time, but I turn once again to an allowance that we have perhaps all forgotten about—and that we should perhaps be reminding the Tories about. Apart from the fact that they voted against raising the wage of carers, let us not forget about attendance allowance. When this Parliament first introduced free personal care, the Westminster Government stopped attendance allowance for the very many people to whom we were giving free personal care. That should not have been allowed. We repeatedly asked for it, and we still have not had it back. I will bat that back over to the Tories, and perhaps they can write to their ministers and ask why we have not received the many millions of pounds that we would have been receiving from attendance allowance, which is rightfully the people’s and the Scottish Parliament’s.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We now move to the closing speeches. I am disappointed to see that there are a couple of people who contributed to the debate who have not come back into the chamber in time for the closing speeches.

It is perfectly acceptable for people to request to leave the chamber outwith the Presiding Officer’s protocol, and I am okay with that. However, I ask that, when you send a note up, you give the reason why, rather than just broad generalisations.

16:26  

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I thank Alison Johnstone for lodging the motion for debate. It has been a really good debate and lots of members have taken part, which is always to be welcomed. I confirm Scottish Labour’s support for the motion, and I am grateful for any support that we get for the amendment in the name of Colin Smyth—I should clear up on his behalf that it is pronounced like Smith, not Smythe. He has been very polite in just nodding along.

There have been some excellent speeches today. The key thing is that we put on record our gratitude to and respect for carers, whether they are waged or unwaged. There have been some genuine contributions from members in doing that. We have heard some moving accounts of members’ constituents and people who are close to us who are carers. For example, Kate Forbes referred to both her sisters, and I hope that they are pleased that the Parliament recognises their important work.

The value of the work that carers do is immeasurable, and we simply could not run our NHS or our social care services without them. Yet the support or pay that carers receive is still so far removed from the value of their work—there is still such a gap. That is why Labour supports the plans to uprate carers allowance using the powers of the Scottish Parliament, and I echo Colin Smyth’s words earlier in the debate and in the Labour amendment calling on the Scottish Government to give carers the certainty and respect that they deserve by confirming a date when carers allowance will be increased.

People have been at pains not to be too party political today, but we are here to make choices and to advocate positions. Yesterday we had a debate that moved some members to tears. I know that, sitting behind Kezia Dugdale, I was one of them. Some of the policies that have come from the UK Government and the whole austerity agenda are the complete opposite of my politics. In fact, that is why I came into politics—to try and put an end to Tory Governments.

It is a bit rich for Graham Simpson to have said what he did. I should declare that I am still—for a few more days—a serving councillor on South Lanarkshire Council, where Graham Simpson has been a member for longer than I have. We cannot just talk about Tory austerity and have a go at the Scottish Government without being honest about it. Equally, I say to James Dornan and others that we cannot be in denial about the cuts that have been passed down to local government. In fact, the STUC has passed a motion today asking us to be honest in that regard. When we have these discussions, we cannot pretend.

I say to the minister, Aileen Campbell, that we on these benches do not accept that local government is getting a fair deal. Others have said that there are no cuts. We have to be completely honest. We do not all agree about where we are getting to, but we have to be honest that there are cuts coming down from the UK Government and from the Scottish Government.

James Dornan

One thing that comes across from the Conservatives and Labour is the talk of priorities. Surely they must accept that the same applies at the local council level, that it is about priorities, that we are all working under restrained budgets, that we have to make the best of that, and that, if Glasgow City Council had dealt with equal pay claims a long time ago, as it should have done, it would not be in the situation that it is in just now.

Monica Lennon

Perhaps the discussion is moving on. Of course we all have to be accountable for our choices, but I go back to the point that local services have been cut. There are not enough carers, and people are under a lot of pressure now.

Graham Simpson

Will the member take an intervention?

Monica Lennon

I think that we have time, so I will be generous.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

There is not an awful lot of time left.

Graham Simpson

I will be very quick. Does Monica Lennon agree that local councils throughout Scotland have been hit by the Scottish National Party Government and that budgets have been cut year on year, which has made things increasingly difficult for councillors, including Monica Lennon and me?

Monica Lennon

Local government and local services are having a really rough time. I am on record as having said that, and I am very clear about that. I do not think that I have ever agreed with Graham Simpson about anything in my life, but it is undeniable that local services have been cut. We can debate who we think is responsible for that, but we need to take ownership of the issue. [Interruption.] A debate is going on behind me.

As a local councillor, I have tried to go to where people are, to listen to their experiences, to understand, and not pretend to have all the answers. I have held dedicated carers surgeries at Lanarkshire carers centre—I went to where carers were. Some of the problems that were put in front of me were so complicated and difficult that I did not know where to start. I have worked in the Scottish Government and in local government and am used to the system, and it is clear to me that the system too often works against people. Services are supposed to support people, not try to push them back.

I realise that we have opened up a discussion, and I need to wind up.

I am pleased that we have put on record our appreciation of and support for carers, particularly young carers—I know that Brian Whittle and others have made great efforts to do that—but there is a postcode lottery when it comes to services. Whoever is elected to run our councils or to be in government in the Scottish Parliament or in the UK Parliament really has to stand up for carers. I think that we all recognise that, with our demographic challenges, we have a very long way to go, and no one here can sit back and say that they are doing enough.

16:33  

Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

I am pleased to close this debate on social care for the Scottish Conservatives. I thank the Green Party for bringing this important issue to Parliament.

Colleagues across the chamber have highlighted the vital work that social care services in Scotland do to support older and vulnerable people, and also the struggles and pressures that those services face now and that they will face in the future.

Annie Wells discussed the huge progress that has already been made to move away from institutional care settings and to start to deliver person-centred care in an environment that allows people maximum independence and to be involved in their own support. The Scottish Conservatives welcomed and were supportive of the roll-out of self-directed support, which can, if it is delivered properly, offer people real choice and control over their support. We also support health and social care integration, which aims to encourage joined-up thinking between NHS boards and local councils, to prevent unnecessary admissions and delayed discharges, and to reduce variations and inefficiencies. However, it is clear that the policy has not yet gone far enough or started to deliver the change on the ground that all members want to see.

Graham Simpson spoke about the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016, which is due to come into force in April 2018. That act sets out the support that carers are entitled to, including their own access to self-directed support and the waiving of support charges. The Scottish Conservatives believe that carers require financial as well as emotional and practical support, particularly the more than 170,000 people who provide care for over 35 hours a week.

As a number of speakers have mentioned, it is acknowledged that carers in Scotland save our Scottish public sector and the Scottish economy £10.8 billion. That is why we have called for carers allowance to be aligned with jobseekers allowance, which will benefit more than 60,000 carers. I am pleased that we have heard cross-party support for that measure today.

Brian Whittle discussed the more practical support that can be provided to unpaid carers. The Scottish Government has estimated that there are 44,000 carers under the age of 18 in Scotland. Young carers require targeted support through schools, colleges and specialised support services.

I want to use this opportunity to highlight a campaign that I have been involved with for the past year, since being elected as an MSP—the Frank’s law campaign. The 16th of April marked the third anniversary of Frank Kopel’s death. It is a shocking indictment that, in some parts of Scotland today, terminally ill patients under the age of 65 are being charged for the help that they need with basic things such as washing, dressing and feeding themselves. Scottish Conservatives want that to change. I was pleased that all Opposition parties in the Parliament committed to supporting a policy change. However, campaigners are becoming frustrated with the lack of progress in the area. The Government announced a feasibility study, which I welcomed, but charities in the field have told me that they have not been contacted and already have major concerns. I am concerned that the feasibility study will be ill-informed and limited. I seek a meeting with the minister on that.

Shona Robison

As Miles Briggs will be aware, I said in my opening remarks that officials are already meeting with a number of organisations. Next week, they are meeting with Scotland Against the Care Tax. The door is open for meetings with a range of organisations. The feasibility study will be completed in the summer. I hope that Miles Briggs will relay that information to allay people’s concerns if they raise the issue with him.

Miles Briggs

I have done so. I have tabled a number of written questions to the minister to find out which organisations have been involved from the outset. I had hoped that the minister and the Government would have gone out to speak to people and not expected people to come to them. Will ministers commit today to ending, in this session of the Parliament, the age discrimination that exists for people in Scotland under the age of 65? I am happy to take an intervention if the minister wants to confirm that that will be ended.

Shona Robison

We should surely wait for the feasibility study, which will inform us about how that can be done. As I said to Miles Briggs, I am willing to do that on a cross-party basis, but let us get the information first.

Perhaps Miles Briggs could answer a question from me. In addition to the spending commitment on free personal care for the under-65s, which we need to take forward and find resources for, his back benchers have today called for more money for local government. If Miles Briggs, as a front-bench spokesperson, supports those back-bench calls for more money for local government, in addition to more money for free personal care for the under-65s, can he explain where that money will come from?

Miles Briggs

As I said, there is £800 million of additional Barnett consequential funding coming to the Parliament in the financial year 2017-18.

Frank’s law is needed today and it was needed yesterday. We cannot let the SNP or the Government kick the issue into the long grass.

We need the Scottish Government to provide real reform, explore alternative service models and ensure that integration is fully enacted. We need a shift in the balance in healthcare towards the community so that we lay the foundations for strong and personalised social care services that are capable of delivering what we all want, which is support for an ageing population in Scotland and delivery of the vital services that Scotland desperately needs.

16:38  

The Minister for Public Health and Sport (Aileen Campbell)

I welcome the opportunity to close the debate on behalf of the Government. The debate gives us the opportunity to reiterate, as others have done, our gratitude to carers right across the country for their selfless actions, which are motivated by compassion and love. The debate also provides us with a chance to highlight our commitment to progress improvements for carers, to provide them with the support that they need and deserve and to ensure that they can have a life alongside caring.

Stuart McMillan and Bob Doris spoke movingly about their life experiences, and I want to add the experience of my family, particularly my mother, who had to care for my late granddad. She would not have been able to do so without the support of Crossroads Caring Scotland. Even though that was more than 20 years ago, the story and the sentiment remain the same—families require support so that they can have a life alongside their caring responsibilities.

Over the lifetime of the Scottish Parliament, significant and transformative progress has been made in policy and legislation on caring and carers. We have had the introduction of free personal care for the elderly, the integration of social care and health, the development of self-directed support and the increasing personalisation of care to empower carers and those who are cared for to get bespoke and tailored help. I hope that that goes some way towards allaying the concerns that were expressed in Miles Briggs’s final comments, as we are on a journey to ensure that people feel empowered and much more in control and in charge of the support that they deserve.

There is much more that we need to do and there are challenges that we must face and overcome, not least the challenge of the ageing population and our ability as a nation to respond while ensuring dignity, respect and appropriate and timely support for people.

Many members have raised important issues and I hope to cover and address as many as time allows.

There has been much discussion of our commitment to increase the levels of carers allowance and jobseekers allowance. Administration of carers allowance in Scotland will be the responsibility of the new social security agency once it is established and, in parallel with the work to establish the agency, we are working hard to deliver the increase to carers allowance on an earlier timescale. We have asked the DWP to explore whether existing systems and processes could be used to pay the increase, although Sandra White and others articulated the challenges in that process. We are currently working with the DWP on feasibility studies, which should be concluded by the end of April. We are also actively considering whether the Scottish Government could make the payments in advance of setting up the social security agency. To give comfort to the members who raised the issue, I can say that we are exploring every option and looking at every way of advancing our commitment as quickly as possible.

Mark Ruskell raised more general concerns about the interaction of carers and their allowances and the DWP, and he was right to raise that, because we must gather views as we develop our approach to social security benefits for carers. Experience panels consisting of carers, including young carers, with direct experience of the benefits system are being established to help us to achieve that aim. The panels will start this summer and run for four years, using the principles of working, designing and developing together to create a social security system that better meets the needs of those who will be in receipt of benefits. As part of the fiscal framework, we have agreed with the UK Government that any new benefits or discretionary payments that the Scottish Government introduces that provide additional income for a recipient will not be offset and result in an automatic reduction by the UK Government in the recipient’s entitlement elsewhere in the UK benefits system.

Further, we want to ensure that people take up the financial help that they deserve. The most recent figures suggest that there could be more than 500,000 individuals in Scotland who are not claiming the support that they deserve and need. That is why we are taking action to support people to take up benefits, which will include action that specifically targets younger carers during carers week in June.

Colin Smyth, Alison Johnstone and other members raised issues and concerns about sleepovers and the living wage. The Government has consulted stakeholders on that commitment, as delivering it successfully and making sure that it is done right will require partnership and collaboration. We intend to extend our commitment to the living wage to include sleepovers during 2017-18 and, as part of the £100 million investment, we have allocated £10 million for that.

Patrick Harvie

Will the minister take an intervention?

Aileen Campbell

In a minute.

We have identified a programme of work to support reforms in respect of sleepovers to allow us to get into a position to meet our ambition of all hours being paid at the living wage, and we will continue on the basis that, when a care worker is sleeping, their hours are compliant with the working time regulations and their waking hours are paid at the living wage.

Patrick Harvie

That is a very welcome commitment. However, the Government’s amendment says that

“all staff providing social care”

should be

“paid at least the real Living Wage”

and the current budget makes provision only for those providing adult social care, so does the Government intend to extend provision to those who provide social care for children, too?

Aileen Campbell

The Government has already made a number of commitments, statements and announcements about ensuring that as many people as possible can get paid the living wage. The most recent was made in the spring of this year by the First Minister in her commitment to early learning and childcare. As a Government, we will continue to do what we can, unlike the Conservatives, who seem to have blanked out the living wage from its amendments and today’s debate. We will do what we can to ensure that the people who work in the care sector get the support and pay that they deserve for the work that they do.

Colin Smyth

Will the minister take an intervention?

Aileen Campbell

Yes.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

There is less than a minute of your speech left.

Aileen Campbell

Okay, I will move on with the rest of what I want to say. I want to touch briefly on the issue of young carers. It is the responsibility of communities everywhere to be aware of the needs of their young carers. It is important that delivery partners are equipped to better understand how to recognise who is a young carer and to ensure that information is widely available to help young people to self-identify as young carers. That requires a great deal of leadership.

For example, when I visited the new Portobello high school in January to mark young carers awareness day, I met young carers and staff from the Edinburgh Young Carers Project, which runs the school awareness-raising campaign. Through that, more than 350 previously hidden young carers have been identified across the city. I encourage all local authorities to develop that type of working and to build relationships with our young carers.

I would have liked to have covered many other areas, particularly Carer Positive, which Alison Johnstone raised, which ensures that employers are as flexible as they can possibly be and understand the value of the assets that they have in their workforce if they have caring responsibilities.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

You must come to a close.

Aileen Campbell

While there is much more that we need to do, it should also be noted that other parts of the UK are seeking to learn from Scotland.

We have had another opportunity today to recognise the contributions of care workers and unpaid carers to this country but we need to do more. As we create the fairer country that we all seek, we need to make sure that carers are very much part of the dialogue and debate.

16:46  

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

I thank the members who have chosen to take part in today’s debate.

As members from across the spectrum have recognised, people caring for one another is fundamental to our society and economy. It is fundamental to human existence and the human experience, and it always has been.

The Greens chose to bring this topic for debate because the way in which we organise and provide for social care in our society today is clearly lacking. As our motion says, there remains a vast gap between the value of care and the support or pay that carers receive. We believe that nobody should face poverty because of the care that they give.

We have reached a degree of consensus, because none of the other political parties’ amendments to the motion delete those two central elements: the gap between the value of care and the support that society provides to carers; and the principle that no one should have to face poverty because of the care that they give. I welcome the consensus that has been reached on those points.

We also agree that raising carers allowance must be part of the necessary action. Colin Smyth was quite right to call for a timescale, and even though ministers have set out some of the technicalities around how we reach that, if we are moving towards feasibility studies at the end of this month, surely it is appropriate that, once those are published, we begin to set dates for the implementation of something that we all agree is necessary.

Mr Smyth also made a clear case against excessive care charges and recognised that long-term reductions in local government funding are incompatible with the progress that we need to make. For those reasons, we will support Labour’s amendment today.

All parties also agreed on the need to improve practical support for younger carers and to provide greater financial support to young carers who are in education. That is progress. A young carers grant was a Green Party manifesto pledge, but it was originally an initiative of the Scottish Youth Parliament by Lauren King. The First Minister pledged to explore that in one of her first parliamentary speeches of the current parliamentary session and we now have consensus on taking it forward. The Carers Trust has come up with a number of ways in which that can be delivered, and I urge all members to look at its proposals.

Shona Robison spoke of many of the steps forward that have been taken, but there are aspects that so far remain on paper only and we need clear commitments on timescales and additional resources, year by year, in Scottish Government budgets to ensure that we close the vast gap between the value of care and the support that is provided.

We brought this debate to the chamber also to highlight the inequities in care. Paid and unpaid care is work that is most often performed by women and which has a significant impact on women’s lives. Some 84 per cent of the social care workforce in Scotland are women and that rises to 96 per cent in the childcare sector, many of them earning below the living wage even still. The impacts on young people are also particularly acute—an estimated 44,000 people under the age of 18 provide unpaid care. I am glad that we have consensus on those aspects.

I have to admit that I had mixed feelings as I listened to Brian Whittle wax lyrical about providing decent support to young people and even quoting Dickens. How did it go, again?

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”

Let us hope that the young person is not unlucky enough to have committed the crime of being the third child in their family.

Brian Whittle

Will the member take an intervention?

Patrick Harvie

Yes. I am glad that so many Conservatives have remembered how the political convention of interventions operates in the chamber, and I am delighted to give way.

Brian Whittle

I thank the member for that lecture, and for taking the intervention. I just want to point out that I have three children, and none of them will be defined by whether they get a tax credit or not with regard to how much I love them.

Patrick Harvie

I wish only that the member extended that respect to the rest of society, rather than just his own family.

I will come to the Conservative amendment in a moment. The Scottish Government amendment would delete our support for a living wage plus, which would go beyond the living wage, and the case against care charges. Therefore, although I recognise the steps forward that the Scottish Government has made and which it is keen to talk about, we will not support its amendment, because we believe that the case needs to go further.

The Conservative amendment contains the following quote:

“current approaches … will not be sustainable in the long term”.

It presents that as a direct quote from Audit Scotland’s 2015 report, “Health and social care integration”. However, the quote is not from that report; it is from Audit Scotland’s 2016 report, “Social work in Scotland”. That report, to which the Conservatives should have attributed the quote, refers to low pay as being the key cause of the social care sector’s recruitment and retention issues, yet the Scottish Conservatives still will not support the provision of even the living wage as a basic requirement. Annie Wells tells us that providers are struggling; I say to her that it is people working on poverty wages in our society who are struggling. James Dornan made efforts to elicit from the Conservatives some defence of those poverty wages, but I regret to say that he made no more progress than the rest of us. One of the Conservative members spoke about the importance of respite care. I suspect that if the Conservatives are returned with a bigger majority at Westminster, many people will require respite from the Tory Government rather than anything else.

Bob Doris was not the only member who talked about the context and the challenges that Brexit will present for the retention and recruitment of the high-quality, talented and dedicated staff that our social care services need. Brexit makes only more urgent our need to address the chronic and long-term undervaluing of care services and to give proper recognition, resources and support to the women and men who do that work in our society.

We need to rethink our society and economy and the way in which we value work. That means that we must make a commitment to funding high-quality paid social care that is, ultimately, free at the point of use for all, regardless of age or medical condition; it means paying all social care staff at least a living wage plus and providing them with the resources that they need to ensure that they are able to do their job to the best of their abilities, as they all want to do; it means lifting carers allowance by 50 per cent to more than £93 a week, as the Greens propose, and introducing a premium for those who care for more than one person; and it means that all of that must be done without interfering with the payment of other benefits or increasing any care charges that people currently pay. That would be dramatic investment in our social infrastructure.

That investment is urgently needed and is worth it. It would generate new employment and close the gap—not only the gender pay gap but the gap of inequality in our society.

Kate Forbes talked about hidden carers and I am sure that she was referring to those who are not included in our records and statistics, who are important people to recognise. However, all care work is generally too hidden in our society. We are not given the clear opportunity to see and value the work that is being done throughout society. What are too often regarded as the highest-profile forms of productive work—running a business, producing our food and even being a politician or a legislator—are dependent on unpaid, and often unseen, caring labour behind the scenes. All of us are able to be here today because we, our families and our communities have been and are supported by people doing unpaid caring labour.

Outside of employment, many of us provide support and care for others and our loved ones receive support from people working in social care. Quite rightly, we want them to have the best care, provided by a high-quality workforce that is appropriately rewarded and supported for the work that it does.

Caring for one another is fundamental to our society and to human nature. Without it, we simply would not function. I am pleased that all political parties are recognising the need for proper valuing of the paid and unpaid care in our society, but we are a long way away from achieving that. It is past time that we turned that recognition into action, so that the next time that we debate these issues in the Scottish Parliament, we are able to look back at meaningful progress.