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KIRSTY STRICKLAND: My neighbour Jim’s last days showed me carers deserve cash, not claps

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My neighbour Jim was a lovely man. He was good-natured, funny, and the king of acerbic one-liners.

He employed those regularly when he was giving me a gentle telling off for smoking.

When I eventually ditched the devil cigarettes, he was unconvinced by the vape that I had taken to puffing on instead and eyed the blueberry cloud that followed me everywhere with suspicion.

He was a big softie when it came to my daughter. He thought she was the bees’ knees. The feeling was mutual.

Jim loved sitting out in the garden on sunny days, and one of the last pictures she drew for him featured a huge yellow and orange sun.

He died last month after a long illness. Our tight-knit close echoes loudly with his absence.

Before his death, he was looked after at home by his wonderful wife and a team of fantastic care workers.

I was thinking of Jim at the weekend when Scottish care workers and the GMB trade union attended a rally at the Scottish Parliament to demand better pay.

They deserve every penny of the modest £15 an hour social care minimum wage they are asking for.

During the pandemic, we stood in applause of our health care heroes.

They were on the frontline of our response, tending to the sick and vulnerable, often without the proper PPE they needed to ensure their safety.

Now they are asking for that warm sentiment to be translated into something tangible: cash, not claps.

Carers’ pressures exposed by Covid

GMB Scotland Secretary Louise Gilmour says that a £15 an hour social care minimum would make work better for hundreds of thousands of care workers, both now and in the future.

“COVID-19 has exposed all the underlying problems facing workers in care, problems that were well understood by employers and political leaders pre-pandemic but left unchallenged, and contributed towards care becoming the ‘crisis within a crisis’.

“Let’s learn the lessons. If we want to tackle the current understaffing crisis, end exploitative employment practices, and ultimately improve standards for everyone, then we must start paying people properly for the essential work they do.

“That’s why the prospect of wages amounting to little more than £10 an hour in the years to come simply won’t stand, and it’s why GMB members across Scotland’s social care sector are ‘fighting for fifteen’.’’

Earlier this month, the Scottish Government announced an increase in the minimum wage for care workers from the current £9.50 to £10.02 in December.

This rise comes as part of the government’s winter plan for health and social care.

But care worker unions say this increase isn’t enough to address the chronic staff shortages in the sector.

Those shortages mean more difficult working conditions for those already employed in social care, as well as increased pressure on the NHS as a whole as we gear up for what is sure to be a difficult winter.

Not only is increasing the care minimum wage the right thing to do, it is the responsible thing.

Raising carers’ pay will ease other pressures

We’ve all seen the images of ambulances queuing outside A&E, unable to drop off patients.

This is partly due to delays in discharging patients back into social care settings.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Ballie attended the rally at Holyrood on Saturday in support of the #FightFor15 campaign.

She said “applause doesn’t pay the bills’’ and called on the Scottish government to back the pay rise proposal.

‘’As staffing shortages push the sector to breaking point, a pay rise is not just the right thing to do – it is the only thing to do,’’ she said.

“If the SNP are serious about building a real National Care Service, they can start by giving the workers at its heart a fair deal and paying them £15 an hour.”

Time to give carers respect they deserve

It’s high time care workers were properly valued for the job they do.

It’s a profession whose workforce is predominantly made up of women.

That might give some clue as to why the rate of pay doesn’t currently reflect the skills and grit required.

But caring should be a job we hold in the highest of esteem.

These are the people we trust to look after our loved ones. And they should be paid in line with the responsibility we place upon them.

The Scottish Government is currently undertaking a consultation on the future of a National Care Service, which closes on November 2,

Nicola Sturgeon has previously said setting up a National Care Service will be “one of the biggest ever achievements of this parliament’’.

Its implementation would certainly be a significant public service reform.

But for it to be all it could be, the Scottish Government needs to show it has heard the concerns of those working in the industry.

That means agreeing to the £15 minimum per hour that they have asked for and undoubtedly deserve.

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