Brian Wilson: Care staff must be paid correct rate for vital job

Sometimes it helps to see national problems taking shape through the prism of a small community where numbers are comprehensible.

The Western Isles is short of care workers, but paying them a decent wage might alleviate that
The Western Isles is short of care workers, but paying them a decent wage might alleviate that

Take the care workers crisis in the Western Isles – where in an age-imbalanced population of just 27,000 there are currently 150 of these posts unfilled.

The Western Isles Council budget has been savaged, losing over 17 per cent in the past five years with most services cut to the bone.

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However, the Social Care budget – jointly run by council and NHS – has a £10 million surplus and current underspend of £800,000 because there are not enough people to pay wages to. Care workers have even been brought in from a mainland agency.

One solution might be to charter a planeload of migrants from some east European country which will itself face the same problem soon enough. It is easy to see the political attractions of trumpeting that option in the current environment.

I’m all for free movement of labour but promoting immigration as a sustainable masterplan for services that hold our communities together is avoiding the problem rather than addressing it.

A better idea for starters might be to offer a decent rate for the job. Otherwise, the public sector will continue to haemorrhage the workforce it desperately needs.

The hard work of caring for the elderly and vulnerable in their own homes is currently rewarded at the bare Living Wage and councils have no money to change that.

Regardless of nationality, low pay for invaluable hard work is not the answer in the Western Isles or anywhere else. It is not just common decency which says that public sector pay must be increased but also an increasingly urgent message from the labour market.