Scotland must not betray carers in the pandemic recovery

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The First Minister must place the nation’s carers at the heart of her pandemic recovery plan or risk betraying them, Oxfam Scotland has warned.

In a letter sent to Nicola Sturgeon today, the anti-poverty charity says the recent report produced by the Scottish Government’s Advisory Group on Economic Recovery has a ‘glaring weakness’ when it comes to sufficiently recognising both the systemic under-valuing of care in Scotland and the need to ensure no-one lives in poverty because they care for others.

Encouragingly, the Group’s report calls for reform of adult social care to be accelerated, including a review of the sector’s funding and the quality of work it offers, while also appearing to recognise the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus crisis on women who provide most care. However, its recommendations fall far short of what is required. For example, it acknowledges unpaid care work but suggests no measures to better value it.

The letter comes as Oxfam Scotland publishes a new briefing to help plug the gap. It lays out 10 steps Ministers can take to place people with caring responsibilities at the heart of a just, caring and green recovery while protecting them from poverty.

The charity says without bold action to fully value and invest in care work, both paid and unpaid, it will be impossible for the Scottish Government to tackle poverty and a key opportunity to invest in a low-carbon, gender-just solution to job creation and green economic recovery will be missed.

Oxfam Scotland’s recommendations include boosting investment in the social care sector and bolstering the social security system to better protect carers, including:

  • Using devolved powers to raise new revenue to significantly boost investment in social care, with consideration of a dedicated Scottish Social Care Tax;
  • Relieving the immediate income pressures on unpaid carers by enhancing emergency financial support, including replicating the one-off Coronavirus Carer’s Allowance Supplement in December 2020 and ensuring effective access to wider crisis funds;
  • Immediately using devolved social security powers to give low-income families the equivalent of at least £10 per week per child, plugging the gap created by the delayed Scottish Child Payment;
  • Increasing expectations on employers to provide decent work and support all those with caring responsibilities, with access to public funds made conditional upon this;
  • Placing the voices and experiences of people with caring responsibilities, and those supported by them, at the heart of this transformation.

While the charity welcomes emergency measures put in place by Ministers to help support carers during the pandemic, it says that a step-change is still urgently needed in how all those with caring responsibilities are valued in Scotland.

Oxfam Scotland says that despite their incredible efforts during the pandemic, people who care for others – whether at home or professionally – are more likely to live in poverty, with the coronavirus crisis compounding the hardship they face. The organisation is calling on the First Minister to intervene and ‘right this wrong’.

The charity acknowledges that while some welcome additional protections exist for those who provide care in Scotland, too many still face the injustice of poverty. Oxfam Scotland is calling for the Scottish Government to use its devolved powers ‘to their full potential’ to protect carers from poverty.

Jamie Livingstone, Head of Oxfam Scotland, said: “During the height of the pandemic, the First Minister joined the people of Scotland in clapping loudly for the nation’s carers; rightly recognising them as the glue holding our country together.

“As she now prepares her response to the Advisory Group’s recommendations, Nicola Sturgeon faces an historic choice: place carers at the heart of Scotland’s recovery or betray them by leaving far too many living in poverty.

“For far too long carers, most of whom are women, have been taken for granted despite their critical contribution. As Scotland seeks to recover, we cannot miss this moment for change. We must protect carers from the injustice of poverty, now and in the future.

“The Scottish Government must implement the urgent, concrete steps needed to value and invest in care not only because it is the right thing to do, but because care, in all its forms, underpins our society, and our economy.

“There can be no national renewal if carers are, once again, left behind. A just and green recovery from covid must be a caring one too. The solidarity people have shown with carers and other key workers during the coronavirus crisis cannot become a footnote of history; it must be a catalyst for change.”

Oxfam Scotland’s report follows a joint call made by over 100 organisations from across Britain – including 30 in Scotland – for political leaders to do more to protect both unpaid and paid carers from poverty.