FMQs: Teachers and social workers 'failed' by Scottish Government, claims Richard Leonard

Mr Leonard has pressed the Scottish Government for more investment in public services. Picture: PA
Mr Leonard has pressed the Scottish Government for more investment in public services. Picture: PA
Share this article
Have your say

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has claimed teachers and social workers have been "failed" by the Scottish Government, as he cited new research showing a majority of staff are looking to quit their jobs.

At First Minister's Questions on Thursday, Mr Leonard raised research by both Education Support and trade union Unison which found more than 50% of teachers and 90% of social workers are considering leaving their professions due to mounting stress and rising workloads.

The Education Support research also suggested more than one third of teaching staff in Scotland suffer from some kind of mental health problem.

Mr Leonard pressed the Scottish Government for more investment in public services.

READ MORE: Staffing crisis fears as Scottish teachers miss more days due to stress

READ MORE: Scottish Labour being punished for 'ambiguity' on IndyRef2, warns former MP

He said: "Isn't it clear that these working people, and the people who depend on the critical services that they provide, are being let down because of decisions that this government has taken?

"Scotland's public services desperately need investment, which you First Minister have failed to deliver."

However Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government was investing in public services and accused the Labour leader of using "empty rhetoric".

On the education study, Mr Leonard said: "The health of our teachers is being harmed, but our children's education and life chances are being harmed too. What does the Scottish Government intend to do to change this?"

Ms Sturgeon said: "Investment in education is rising in Scotland - and rightly so - we've also given teachers the best pay deal of any of the UK countries. As part of that pay deal we've also taken steps and additional measures that are aimed at addressing issues relating to workload, well-being and teacher empowerment.

"We're taking the action designed to make sure our teachers have the support they need to deliver for our pupils."

Turning to the Unison research, Mr Leonard quoted from the report, in which the union said social work in Scotland was at "breaking point".

He said: "It's not just teachers who are considering leaving their professions.

"Here is just one social worker's experience: 'We are under pressure to hit savings targets. Many staff are stressed to the point of their own health being compromised, which will mean a higher risk of poor care.

"'Time spent with vulnerable adults is too short, so many are lonely and depressed. Many staff work extra hours, without pay, just to get jobs done.'"

Mr Leonard asked the First Minister: "Unison told the BBC this morning the service was at breaking point, so what does Scottish Government intend to do to change this?"

The First Minister welcomed report, saying it is "important to look at evidence like this carefully".

She went on to detail improvements made in the social work sector, including an increase in staff and better mental health support.

She added: "I would say to Richard Leonard that we're doing all of this in the face of continued Tory austerity.

"It begs the question why if Richard Leonard is - and I believe he is - concerned about the impacts of austerity, why he wants to keep Scotland's future in the hands of Tory governments at Westminster rather than let us take these decisions ourselves."

Mr Leonard said he wanted to see Scotland's future in the hands of a Labour government at Westminster.

The health and wellbeing of Police Scotland staff was also raised with the First Minister by Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, who challenged her over "shocking" figures which show an 11% increase in the number of days police officers have been off sick due to mental ill health.

Mr Rennie pressed also said the equivalent of just 7.5 additional staff had been taken on to help officers deal with call-outs involving people in mental distress.

He claimed a survey of police staff by the Scottish Police Authority, which is expected to ask officers about morale in the force, has been delayed for three years "making people suspicious that it is going to be bad news".

With no survey available, he said Liberal Democrats had uncovered "shocking" figures showing "the number of working days lost to mental ill health has gone up 11% in just two years for police officers, for police staff it is 25%".

He went on to state that while the Scottish Government had pledged to recruit mental health staff to work alongside police officers, his party found "this adds up to a miserable seven-and-a-half extra staff".

Mr Rennie said: "We have police off sick, massive demands on their time. Just seven-and-a-half extra staff to help them. Will the First Minister take off time from pontificating about other parties and her referendum and take practical action to increase mental health support for our police?"

Ms Sturgeon insisted her Government is investing both in policing and improved mental health services. She said: "These are important issues and that is why we are investing in our police service, we are investing in mental health support workers across a range of different settings.

"We made a commitment to do that over this Parliament and we are delivering that commitment over this Parliament."

She told Mr Rennie she would write to him about the police staff survey, but said overall police - like other pubic sector workers - "clearly do jobs that are incredibly stressful".

She insisted the "welfare of police is very important" as she told how the SNP had increased officer numbers since coming to power.

With officers in Scotland also awarded a 6.5% salary increase, Ms Sturgeon said her Government is "ensuring our police officers are properly rewarded for the job they do, through a pay increase that is much greater than elsewhere".