It is two months since Common Weal and the STUC sent a joint letter, supported by a number of other organisations, to Nicola Sturgeon asking her to pause the National Care Service Bill. Nicola Sturgeon never replied, although she did refer to the letter in the Scottish Parliament. The letter, however, appears to have had a significant impact, being referred to in the leadership hustings debate organised by the SNP Trade Union Group, and all three candidates supported the calls for a pause.
It was therefore inevitable that the new Minister for social care, mental well-being and sport, Maree Todd, would write to the Scottish Parliament asking them to pause the Bill until after the summer and she did so this week. With several committees of the Scottish Parliament having expressed serious concerns about the Bill, it appears equally inevitable that it will agree to the request. The question now is what next?
Officially the reason the Scottish Government has given for requesting the pause is “to find compromise and reach consensus with those who have raised concerns during the Stage 1 scrutiny undertaken so far”. The letter says the Scottish Government will do this by holding a series of Regional Forums, “providing an opportunity for Ministers and officials to engage directly with people with lived experience of accessing and delivering social care support locally” and will “also continue and deepen our co-design activity”.
Although the role of Local Authorities and Trade Unions is now mentioned as well as those with “lived experience”, this represents a continuation of the flawed design process which has going on for eight months now and so produced nothing. The Common Weal Care Reform Group has been working on a critique of that process which we intend to publish in the next few weeks. Our basic argument will be that the Scottish Government needs to stop trying to create a National Care Service (NCS) that will be designed and managed from the top down. Instead, the NCS should be designed and controlled from the bottom up according to certain fundamental principles, such as that it should be cradle to grave, not for profit and that care like health should be provided according to need and free at the point of use.
While not reflected in Maree Todd’s letter, there are signs that politicians are now starting to appreciate this. In the debate on care at the SNP Trade Union Group hustings (https://www.youtube.com/live/8amd4lnZiFI?feature=share from 40 mins) the candidates supported a number of policy positions and outcomes which would be contrary to those that would result from the Bill. The STUC has now produced some excellent infographics about what Humza Yousaf said, including the key role of Trade Unions and his wish to see care services being not for profit.
The big question now therefore is whether the new First Minister will follow up his words with actions and commit to embedding these and other fundamental principles in the NCS Bill before it is debated to the Scottish Parliament. Unless the pause can be used to deliver that, it would be better for the Scottish Government to scrap the bill and start again. The Care Reform Group, however, is hopeful that if there was the political will it would be possible to agree some fundamental changes to the bill without having to start the parliamentary process all over again.
What the pause letter showed is that civic organisations acting collectively can have a significant impact. We are therefore engaging with a number of other organisations to try and reach agreement about the core changes to the bill that would be required to deliver the sort of National Care Service we advocated in Caring for All and put these to Scottish Ministers.