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Public Works is UNISON Scotland's campaign for jobs, services, fair taxation and the Living Wage. This blog will provide news and analysis on the delivery of public services in Scotland. We welcome comments and if you would like to contribute to this blog, please contact Kay Sillars k.sillars@unison.co.uk - For other information on what's happening in UNISON Scotland please visit our website.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Remembering Elaine

Guest post by Pam Duncan-Glancy

Saturday will be International Workers Memorial Day.  This is when we remember the dead and fight for the living.  I want to take a moment to remember Elaine McNeill.  I didn’t know Elaine, but I know a lot of people like Elaine.  People who will go that extra mile, and more, to support disabled people to do the things others take for granted.  Elaine died on her way to work in the snow.  Despite the freezing conditions, Elaine tread through ice and snow to reach the people who relied on her for care and support.

I saw the news on Facebook.  I was in the middle of trying to find a way for my own Personal Assistant (carer) to get back to her family, safely.  You see, for some people, not getting to work is the difference between life and death.  My husband and I rely on our PAs to provide round the clock support and that day was no different.  However, it should have been.  Personal Assistants, like Elaine, are overworked, underpaid, undervalued and under-appreciated.  Now, I’m not saying that more money, less work and more appreciation would have changed what happened that day, no one could know that for sure.  But what I am saying is that in some ways it was unsurprising, and is a dire testimony to the savage cuts to local services.

Perhaps if salaries were better, there could have been different travel options for Elaine that day.  Or if we valued social care work like we value other work maybe more people would be recruited into it and there would be more people, who might not have to travel so far, to provide care.  Or, what if we spread the service less thinly?  Losing one 15 minute visit is pretty catastrophic when you only have 4 of them throughout the day to help you eat, go to the toilet, get clean and go to bed.  It’s even worse if that visit was the one in 12 hours that you get to swap your 12-hour incontinence pad.  This is the sad reality for so many disabled and older people in Scotland.  Social care funding is cut to the bone.  Users of it are being denied their human rights. 

Elaine would have known this.  I suspect she, like so many like her, was a women committed to delivering the best support she could, against the odds.  As a disabled person who lives and breathes this reality, I can tell you categorically that, coupled with the harsh reality of the abuse of our own human rights, the exploitation of the care workforce bears heavy.  And I know the same true the other way around.  When the human rights of my husband and I are at risk, our PAs feel the injustice and the fear – for our future and their jobs – too.

Our fight is the same fight.  We want – no, we need – a social care system that protects and fulfils the human rights of the people who use it and the people who work in it.  One that is free at the point of need for the user and that pays the staff who deliver it, in a way that recognises their hard work and commitment. 

Free at the point of use and a pay increase, that’s more money all round’ I hear the astute economists among you note.  Yes.  More money is needed in the system.  Enough already with the whole ‘let’s use the money differently’ crap.  The elastic in that particular nicker is snapped.  It’s time to create a National Care Service, designed to protect and promote human rights, publically funded, free at the point of delivery and with industry leading pay and conditions.  And by the way, this is not a spending agenda, it’s an investment agenda – 7 people are in work because my husband and I get social care.  Seven more people with money to spend.  In fact, if you count my husband and I too, that’s 9 more people working, and spending because of social care!  And I haven’t started on savings through the prevention of illness (physical and mental), social isolation or benefit costs.

So on Saturday, when we remember those who have lost their lives at work, through their dedication and struggle, let us remember Elaine, and fight for every other Elaine out there.

Pam Duncan-Glancy is a UNISON member standing to be Labour’s Candidate in Glasgow North. She tweets @glasgowpam.

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