Martin Sime: Living Wage for care workers will be a real step forward

The Living Wage for thousands of care workers in Scotland has limped into the public domain, writes our Scotland columnist

Martin Sime
Martin Sime

Voluntary organisations have played their part in the industrialisation of care over the past 25 years or so, but all it seems to have delivered is poorer services with bad outcomes for people, marginal cost savings to the public sector and a highly casualised third sector workforce, which often ends up delivering anonymous 15-minute home visits. "It's not my job to get you a pint of milk," as staff might feel forced to say.

This is the context for a remarkable new commitment, which has rather limped into the public domain this month, to introduce the Living Wage for thousands of care workers in Scotland from October this year. That's the real one, set by the Living Wage Foundation, not George Osborne's version. Of course, it would be churlish not to welcome the cash, but it's a little bittersweet because the details were not worked out with the sector beforehand. Clearly, too many officials still see us as mere providers rather than partners - but still, it's a real step forward.

Good news from Canada, where the new government seems keen to repair damaged relations with the sector. A report from the University of Toronto, called On the Mend, suggests ways to restore good relations, which reached their zenith there more than 10 years ago but have been pretty hostile of late. The Cabinet Office could learn from this, but I'm not holding my breath.

There has been much gnashing of teeth here about the demise of the Work Programme. Hugely unpopular and unsuccessful as it was, Scotland was about to inherit the power and resources for employability as part of the Smith Commission post-referendum deal. Alas, only a fraction of the current spend is now to be made available as the Work Programme becomes the Work and Health Programme. Another unionist plot - or just bad timing?

The logic might seem perverse, but each time the UK government or the Westminster establishment threatens charities with fundraising legislation, more Scottish charities question the rationale for being part of the new self-regulatory structure. The new charities act, of course, does not apply north of the border (nor does it in Northern Ireland), so it is hard to see how its legal or regulatory underpinning can be made to work across the UK. A system based on English law would sit uneasily with us in Scotland.

Martin Sime is chief executive of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

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