Edel Harris: Social care workers must be rewarded

George Osborne promised a National Living Wage in his budget, though this will still be less than the current living wage. Picture: Getty
George Osborne promised a National Living Wage in his budget, though this will still be less than the current living wage. Picture: Getty
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CORNERSTONE is one of the largest care providers in Scotland, providing services to children and adults in 20 of the country’s 32 local authority areas.

With a turnover of almost £36m and a payroll of over 2,500 staff, we are a significant ­contributor to the delivery of public services.

We are committed to paying all our staff at least the Living Wage

We are currently committed to paying all our staff the Living Wage as a minimum, and we were one of the first organisations to make this pledge back in 2012. Unlike some other care provider companies, we didn’t reduce staff pay in other areas of the organisation to do this, but made the decision to enhance the hourly rates of the lowest paid employees at an additional cost to the business.

Cornerstone values its workforce highly and we are committed to offering appropriate reward packages to staff. Our workforce costs account for up to 85% of the total cost of the support we provide.

In recent years, severe downward pressure has been applied by local authorities to the cost of social care services in the independent sector, through a combination of competitive tendering and more recently the unilateral imposition of cuts. The result is that pay and conditions packages for workers in our sector have not kept pace with those of comparable workers in the public sector – creating, in effect, a two-tier workforce in social care.

We are aware that the Scottish Government has committed to supporting the Living Wage for the duration of the current parliament, ensuring all workers covered by the public sector pay policy are paid the Living Wage. And of course the Chancellor announced recently in the budget that from 2016 the UK will introduce a National Living Wage for those aged over 25 years. The National Living Wage proposed is less than the current Living Wage of £7.85 per hour, which Cornerstone and other Living Wage organisations pay their staff, irrespective of age.

We are frequently asked by some of our commissioning councils if we pay the Living Wage, and we have responded to the recent survey carried out by Cosla on the issue. It is also evident that many local authorities are trying to work out how best to use procurement models to encourage their contractors to pay the Living Wage.

However, the reality is that hourly rates are being driven down because of the pressures on local authority budgets; service providers very rarely see any annual inflationary uplift on existing contracts and current tenders often expect a price to be held for the duration of the contracting period. Some councils also place a cap on the hourly rate which is below what would be necessary to pay staff the Living Wage.

I am very proud to be CEO of an amazing organisation that continues to provide the highest quality of care and support to thousands of Scottish citizens every day. Services that are delivered by a highly motivated, well trained and caring workforce, to whom we will continually strive to offer the best pay and working conditions.

While we wish to always guarantee the Living Wage, the factors which I’ve mentioned above currently prevent us from doing so.

Registering as an accredited body with the Living Wage Foundation is certainly a long-term goal for Cornerstone and something which we wish to work towards, but in the current climate it is impossible for us to do so.

A society is judged by the way in which it cares for the sick and the vulnerable and a good starting point would be for Scotland to value the social care workforce it has. It is time for social care to stop playing second fiddle to the NHS and for the pay inequalities between care workers in the public and independent sectors to be fully addressed. «