*This article was first published in the Edinburgh Evening News newspapers on the 26th of February 2019*
A very sick woman came to my surgery on Friday. She’s just been told her new kitchen, which she’d be waiting on for a long time was going to be delayed further because the company set to build it, McGill’s, had gone bust. That wasn’t even her main reason for coming to see me.
She was one of thousands of people across the Lothian’s who are really struggling just now. We all know the financial pain that austerity has imparted over this past decade and the struggle I write of today is of all those people living with a disability, whether that’s a mobility issue meaning they need help washing or dressing, or something like chronic pain that makes some of life’s most basic tasks utterly unbearable.
Our social care system is designed to help people who find themselves in this situation. And for thousands across the city, it works well. Carers come with shopping, make meals, clean homes and help people get dressed or get them to and from appointments. They make life bearable, but they also save the city countless amounts of cash. They are heroes in that regard and we reward them with low pay and insecure employment contracts. It’s really shameful.
Every person with a decent support package in place, able to live comfortably in their own home, is one less person in a care home or a hospital bed, which costs many times over the price we pay for help at home
Yet the budget passed by the SNP Government last week will see over £10million stripped from the council’s social care budget and over £5million from NHS Lothian. It’s going to get harder to provide the care already in place, those waiting in pain will wait longer, and those who become ill as a consequence will end up in our hospitals unable to get home because they support they need just isn’t there. It’s a dismal cycle utterly failed by public policy.
Yesterday this paper published an encounter I had with a woman in the east end of Edinburgh whose arthritis was debilitating. Her long needed operation was cancelled and then the home adaptations she required were pushed to the back of an ever-expanding queue. She should not have to live like this.
The amount of money we spend adapting houses is a tiny fraction of what we spend on keeping people in hospital who don’t need to be there. Five years ago, the total figure for Scotland was just £13million and it helped around 6000 people. That’s for the whole country. That sum has fallen to just £10million according to the last figures published. The new Integrated Joint Boards means far less transparency on what public cash is actually being spent on and the questions I’ve tabled to Government ministers in Parliament simply offer promises to find new ways of sharing the detail later in the year. Not good enough.
This is consistently what the SNP do when faced with a difficult problem. Hide the detail and brush away the paper trail. They did it in our schools system. When kid’s ability to read, write and count started to fall, they scrapped the literacy and numeracy tests that proved it. When school inspections started to show school standards slipping, the SNP took all the previous inspection reports off the website so that parents couldn’t compare them. When Scotrail consistently failed to meet its punctuality targets, they secretly lowered them.
Our sick and elderly don’t need political spin and cynical manipulation. They need a Government prepared to do the heavy lifting. Serious cash needs to go in to house adaptations so that we save money in the future. If we flipped the trend and spent the bed blocking money on hand rails and wet rooms, we’d save the NHS and councils millions. Money we could use to pay our care workers the kind of cash they deserve. It just requires bold leadership over creative accounting.