New national outcome would prove we are a 'country that cares' - Jamie Livingstone

This winter, there are growing warnings that Scotland risks sleepwalking into an escalating care crisis. Social care providers have been sounding the alarm for some time as staff leave en masse for better paid jobs in other sectors and care providers go to the wall.

Jamie Livingstone, Head of Oxfam Scotland
Jamie Livingstone, Head of Oxfam Scotland

Unpaid carers – who have been propping up the social care system for years – have become so utterly exhausted and worn down during the pandemic that they are being pushed over the edge.

A calamitous cocktail of factors are at play but the fundamental problem is that care has historically been a politically overlooked Cinderella sector.

For too long, people who care for others, whether paid or unpaid, have been undervalued and under rewarded. As a result, caring can result in significant personal and economic costs for individuals and their families, with carers more likely to live in poverty.

Fiona, an unpaid carer from Dunfermline, summed up the problem in a recent media interview: "You just feel completely forgotten about… we're just expected to get on with it because we love our loved ones and we wouldn't give up." Fiona reports having had no break in caring for her son, who has learning difficulties and health problems, for 84 weeks.

Ending such glaring injustice requires long-term vision, strategy and leadership; we need to set a shared new national goal, and then commit to the actions to achieve it.

That’s why Oxfam Scotland, Scottish Care, One Parent Families Scotland, the Scottish Women’s Budget Group, along with the seven national carer organisations in Scotland, including Carers Scotland, issued a joint call for a ‘generation defining commitment’ to the nation’s carers to be placed at the centre of a new vision for Scotland.

Together, the 11 National Outcomes within Scotland’s National Performance Framework are meant to capture the Government’s vision for ‘the type of nation we want to be’. Yet none of them are focused on care, carers and care workers.

A dedicated National Outcome on valuing and investing in care would help place it at the heart of Scotland’s recovery, benefitting carers, those cared for, and Scotland’s society and economy.

Granted, some carers in Scotland already benefit from additional support not available in other parts of the UK, but being less bad isn’t a badge of honour and we need an integrated National Outcome that drives a new wave of spending and policy choices.

In a new report issued on the eve of the SNP’s annual conference, the University of the West of Scotland, Oxfam Scotland and our partners have provided a blueprint for it.

Of course, a new National Outcome won’t transform the lives of those who deliver and rely on care in Scotland overnight. But it would publicly and transparently measure whether Scotland is a ‘country that cares’ with respect to its many care workers and unpaid carers – including parents and guardians – and with respect to those experiencing care.

Scottish Ministers must demonstrate that they will no longer sleepwalk; that they will instead open their eyes and embed their compassion for care within a new National Outcome. A blueprint is on the table. Now all that’s needed is the political vision to test and deliver it.

Jamie Livingstone, Head of Oxfam Scotland

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