Health and Social Care Workers: Recognition and Reward

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:33 pm on 25th June 2020.

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Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip 2:33 pm, 25th June 2020

I congratulate the Petitions Committee and Catherine McKinnell on opening the debate and securing the time for it. I also congratulate the Members who made thoughtful and, in some cases, personal speeches. One hundred and forty five of my constituents signed the main petition that is being discussed today and a proportionate number signed the others. It is important that they have the opportunity to hear that their voices have been heard. They and all of us joined in the 10 weeks of the clapping for carers, but all recognised, as others have said, that clapping is not enough and that there must be action and they demonstrated that by signing these petitions.

I would just note that there was another petition during lockdown that achieved 1.2 million signatures, but, because it did not come through the e-petition site, it is not available to be debated in the House in quite the same format, but I know that many Members would want to have the behaviour of the Prime Minister’s special adviser discussed on the Floor of the House.

When this crisis is over, the UK Government must find a way of honouring the amazing heroes in our NHS and care sector who are continuing to work tirelessly to help us all to defeat the coronavirus. The Scottish Government—the SNP Government—remain committed to passing on all Barnett consequentials for health spending to the NHS in Scotland. Throughout this time, and for many years now, all NHS staff in Scotland have been paid the real living wage, not the pretendy living wage implemented by the Tory Government. Nurses across all bands are paid better in Scotland than anywhere else in the UK, and the Scottish Government are delivering the highest pay rise for NHS agenda for change staff anywhere in the UK. Employees will receive at least a 9% pay rise for the three years from 2019.

The Scottish Government spend about £130 per head more on social care than is spent in England, and they are the only Government in the UK to fund free personal care. Also, as my hon. Friend Patricia Gibson said earlier, they have already brought forward a 3% pay rise for social care workers in recognition of the work that they are doing at this time. Recognising the particular challenges presented by covid19, the Scottish Government, with cross-party support in Holyrood, are working to establish a sick pay fund as a matter of urgency to ensure that care workers whose employer terms and conditions fall short and who test positive for covid-19 receive sick pay above the current statutory level of £95.85 a week. As we know, that is one of the worst sick pay legal frameworks anywhere in Europe.

The Scottish Government were also the first in the United Kingdom to announce a death in service provision for covid-19 deaths among NHS staff. That benefit mirrors what is available in the NHS pension scheme: a lump sum and ongoing survivor’s benefit. However, it is unacceptable that some social care workers’ contracts of employment offer no cover for death in service, so the Scottish Government are putting in place that kind of cover for when any social care worker dies without death in service cover in their contracted pension arrangements. The Scottish Government will provide a one-off payment of £60,000 to a named survivor, and this will be retrospective. That is important because, as of 23 June, the Scottish Government have been informed by health boards or the Care Inspectorate of seven deaths of health care workers and 12 deaths of social care workers related to covid-19.

I have some experience of this. The Wyndford Locks care home in Maryhill was one of the first in Scotland to experience the death of a staff member due to covid-19. Also, one of my constituents, Christine Gallagher, lost her beloved son Michael to the disease. He was providing frontline care, employed by an agency, in central Scotland. His loss is keenly felt by his family. Too many families across the country are feeling such losses. His mother told me that she could not attend his funeral because of public health restrictions. She had to stay at home with a photograph of her son and light a candle. I want to pay tribute to Michael for the love and support that he showed to so many in his care, and express my condolences to his family and all the other families who have experienced tragic losses due to covid-19. May they all rest in peace.

This is why it is so important that the healthcare and social care workers, whether in the NHS or private sector, have the pay and benefits that they and their families deserve for the work they do to keep us all safe. That includes healthcare workers who have made their home in Scotland, even if they began their lives or careers elsewhere. So, while we welcome the principle of scrapping the NHS surcharge, it does not appear to have happened in practice yet. Perhaps the Minister can tell us when it will come into effect, because we are still hearing of healthcare workers being told by the Home Office that the surcharge is still payable and there is no guarantee of a refund.

In too many cases, the hostile environment continues despite all these warm words. Even in the middle of the pandemic, we see cases of NHS staff being told that they are no longer welcome. I have a constituent, Jessica Forsyth, an Australian national on a youth mobility visa. Her visa expires at the end of July and she has been told by UK Visas and Immigration that she cannot apply because she is deemed unskilled and earns below the £30,000 threshold, even though she is providing essential services to the NHS. She has made Scotland her home and built her life here, and I hope the Minister can help me to solicit the reply I am waiting for from the Home Office about her case.

It is clear that, while all this work has been taking place, we also have to ensure that we are planning for the next phase. We must learn the lessons and use the coming months to ensure that PPE is fully stockpiled, that supply lines are in place and that procedures are changed where necessary, so that as the second wave hits, there will be a vastly improved level of preparation. As we open up the health service to wider services, that must be done using an evidence-based, cautious and phased approach, for the sake of both staff and patients.

I think that many in the NHS and social care would echo the words of the declaration of Arbroath—it is not for glory, nor honours, nor riches that they fight. But that does not mean that they do not deserve them, and when all this is over we have to make sure that they are properly rewarded and recognised.