Scotland's social care system is in crisis. It's underfunded, the support being given to disabled people is narrowing dangerously, it penalises users with expensive charges, it increasingly relies on family kinship caring (usually women). Furthermore, it's staffed by people on permanently low wages (again usually women), both of whom are expected to deliver minor miracles. All of this creates a system which undermines the human rights of disabled people to society, democracy, the economy and their families and communities – as well as presents issues to gender equality. Women carers are more likely than men carers to be working part time, and thus more likely to be reliant on social security and experience poverty. Disabled women also experience economic gender inequality: the employment rate for non-disabled men is nearly 90%, but for disabled women it is 40%.
Over the past several months, I have been working as an intern with the Independent Living in Scotland (ILiS) project on our Dialogue for the Future Funding of Social Care in Scotland. This Dialogue consists of several sections, which together make up a joint vision of what social care should look like, work on how to communicate this vision to decision makers and the public, and research into different potential models of funding it. Throughout, the work is being steered by a broad group of stakeholders – including Engender, as well as Disabled People’s Organisations, carers’ organisations, trade unions, and service providers.
The first of the Dialogues is our Statement of Ambitions. This is intended to be a joint vision of what social care should look like, and the principles underlining it, agreed upon by a broad range of stakeholders. To this end, I organised an event this January, titled “Social Care: an ambitious future”, which brought together representatives of a range of different organisations to discuss their visions for social care. For instance, the workshop on gender equality (facilitated by Engender’s Jill Wood) argued for the need to bring together gender equality with the social care agenda. This could be done through making care seen as a valued occupation and an instrument for social change, designing social care to promote equality and diversity for all groups, and exploring differences in gendered experiences of social care through studies of evidence.
The notes from these different discussion workshops were then brought into a draft Statement of Ambitions, which we submitted to the Scottish Government’s National Conversation on a Healthier Scotland. We took feedback from the attendants at the event, and the different organisations involved in Steering the Dialogue. We are now in the process of finalising our Statement of Ambitions, looking at issues including how to invest in a fairly renumerated and sustainable workforce, and achieving outcomes such as social and economic well-being and the advancement of human rights for those who need and work in social care.
The Statement of Ambitions has been developed alongside and informed the creation of the second of the Dialogues: communication messages to change the narrative around social care for decision makers as well as the wider public. In doing so, we are drawing upon the example of the WiSE (Women in Scotland’s Economy) Research Centre, which has successfully changed the narrative around childcare to one of an essential investment for employment of women, lifting families out of poverty, reducing gender inequality in earnings, as well as increasing economic growth and productivity. In doing this piece of work, we are hoping to take the lessons from this work on childcare, and look at how to begin a similar shift in thinking and talking about social care. Rather than social care being seen as a cost, we are looking at messages that will frame social care as an investment that provides social support for full economic and social citizenship for all, represents who we value in society, and enables social change and economic growth.
Drawing upon the Statement of Ambitions and the communications messages is the third dialogue, a piece of research on future models of funding social care in Scotland. This piece of work is still in the planning stages at the moment, but it will involve collaboration between Disabled People’s Organisations and academic partners to carry out research comparing different models of funding social care, and looking at how they meet the outcomes in the Statements of Ambition. This piece of work could, for instance, take international examples of the funding of social care, the specific context of Scotland, and compare different models for their impact on independent living, equality and human rights. This could be similar to previous research by Scottish academics into the relationship between care and gender equality, looking at international models of care systems, and the lessons they hold for Scotland. One international model we could look at is that of Australia, where a new National Disability Insurance Scheme is currently being implemented for social care – although it is yet to be seen what the impact of this will be.
When all of this work is completed – the Statement of Ambition, the communications messages, and the research into funding – there should be a strong case for a new vision for social care in Scotland that can be taken forward by decision makers, one that will address these key issues of inequality for all, including women, disabled people and older people, and bring benefits to Scotland's economy and society.
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