Scottish Labour has announced that it would be willing to back the Scottish government’s Budget “if it delivers a fair deal for social care workers” by increasing pay to £12 an hour and planning to raise it to £15 in the next parliament.
The challenge comes after a GMB trade union survey revealed that 98% of social care workers feel underpaid and 52% undervalued by the Scottish government. Their median wage across the UK is currently £9.50 an hour.
But the SNP may be under less pressure to meet Scottish Labour’s demands, as the governing party has struck a deal with the Scottish Green Party and is in talks with the Lib Dems ahead of the final Budget vote on Tuesday.
The agreement with the Greens will reportedly give NHS and other public sector staff earning under £40,000 a pay rise of 2% – up from 1% – and an £800 increase to public sector workers earning under £25,000.
At a press conference today, new Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “I am ready and willing to support the government in passing a budget deal and delivering a budget deal if it works for people on the frontline in Scotland.”
He made clear that the SNP would need to give a fair pay deal to NHS staff and recognise the Covid challenges for the social care sector in particular. “It’s no secret that social care has paid a heavy, heavy price in this pandemic,” he said.
Reminding the public that hospital patients with Covid were sent into care homes, and workers were sent into homes where there was Covid, Sarwar argued that the staff should receive “not £10 an hour” but “at the very minimum £12 an hour”.
“These are real heroes that deserve more than just applause on a Thursday night, more than just a thanks, they deserve to be recognised and rewarded,” he said, adding that this was “the least that we can do for our social care staff”.
Sarwar suggested that the SNP might have struck a “cheaper deal” with the Greens, but said: “If it is a fair deal, we will back the Budget.” The SNP-Green deal includes more money for free school meals and free bus travel for under-22s.
The new Scottish Labour head criticised the government in Scotland over its Covid performance, highlighting that less than a third of the country’s full testing capacity is being used and the number of vaccines administered are falling.
With coronavirus restrictions likely to ease in Scotland this week, Sarwar said that Labour would support the measures “if they are sensible”, but would “continue to push the government around further support” for business and the self-employed.
Scottish Labour is calling for the Budget to include more funding for employment support, an extension of apprenticeship support, investment in infrastructure, such as a programme of retrofitting homes, and a review and refocus of business grants.
The party also wants to see more funding for community wellbeing services, for cancer and screening services, for community mental health services, plus reform of CAMHS and action to tackle the waiting times backlog.