Better pay for carers is healthier option

Personal assistants should be fairly rewarded, says Theresa Shearer

Recruiting and retaining a high-quality, motivated workforce is crucial to delivering the best support. Picture: PA
Recruiting and retaining a high-quality, motivated workforce is crucial to delivering the best support. Picture: PA

ON 1 April, arrangements for providing social care across Scotland will change. The law bringing this about is driven by the Scottish Government’s backing for self-directed support, which aims to give people needing social care greater control over their lives. This is something we at Enable Scotland actively support.

Self Directed Support (SDS) is the Scottish Government’s strategy for putting people in control of their lives if they need social care or support. This has always been a key agenda for ENABLE Scotland. Over the last three years, we have been implementing the most significant transformational change programme in our history to ensure we are in a strong position to deliver personalised services for people with learning disabilities.

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Enable Scotland currently has around 1,400 support staff. We have renegotiated each contract, providing enhanced terms and conditions for almost all of them, boosting salaries for employees who haven’t had a pay rise for the past three years.

We have adopted a standardised personal assistant role for all staff providing support for people in their homes and the community.

This will give people who have learning disabilities, along with their families and carers, greater flexibility, choice and control about how, where and when their support is provided, as well as who delivers it.

As we move to integrate health and social care, it is important that all organisations providing support services are able to provide people with greater control over their lives.

I believe recruiting and retaining a high-quality, motivated workforce is crucial to delivering the best outcomes for people who receive support services. So while Enable Scotland has paid the living wage to frontline staff since 2012, we wanted to raise the bar further. All personal assistants will be paid £7.80 an hour – well above the current living wage.

A huge concern for our sector should be the increasing number of working people living in poverty. Ensuring staff within our organisations are protected from this should be a priority and I am keen to see us working to reverse this trend.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has highlighted that there are more people living in poverty now who have jobs than who don’t. It has called for reform of this part of the labour market to improve working people’s prospects.

Enhancing terms and conditions of frontline workers during adverse economic times, has been a vision for us over the last three years. To me, this was an absolute necessity to ensure people receiving support have a high-calibre, dedicated and stable support team.

Recently, the wider Scottish social care voluntary sector has shown a trend of redundancies, pay freezes, loss of pension and sickness benefits. We have been focused on bucking this trend.

Dr Ian Cunningham, of the University of Strathclyde, researched pay and conditions among social care charities in Scotland. His report found that: “Years of calls for efficiencies and, more recently, recession and public expenditure cuts, have led to a hollowing-out of employment conditions within voluntary organisations.

“Future cuts threaten to exacerbate these problems with workers in the sector who face redundancy, pay freezes or cuts, loss of pensions and sickness benefits.

“In their efforts to make savings to the public purse, public sector funders may be undermining some of the very qualities that attracted them to the sector as providers of public services – a skilled and committed workforce.”

Alongside improved services for people we support and the financial benefit to employees, I believe enhanced terms and conditions will give personal assistants a real sense of engagement with the people they support, increased autonomy and job satisfaction.

I also anticipate benefits to the wider organisation including more effective recruitment, better retention, increased ability to nurture and grow talent, and improved reputation within the sector and among commissioners and regulators.

This is the final part of our three-year programme. Throughout, all the indicators point to us achieving excellent outcomes for the people we support and our employees.

I hope the implementation of this innovative programme acts as a wider catalyst for change.

• Theresa Shearer is chief operating officer for Enable Scotland