‘Speak-out’ survey reveals children and disabled services hanging by a thread, says UNISON Scotland

Date: Wednesday 6 November 2013

A ‘speak-out’ survey of community, voluntary and housing workers has exposed services to the most vulnerable people in society as “hanging by a thread”. The UNISON survey, which polled more than 400 workers in Scotland, uncovers dangerously underfunded services leading to hardship and exposing children and the disabled to risk.

UNISON is calling on the Scottish Government to have a major rethink in its attitude to the third sector and to put an end to the ‘sink or swim’ philosophy which is leading to a struggle for survival. Almost unnoticed by the public, many charities have become increasingly financially dependent on winning contracts from the public sector.

Scotland’s largest public sector union says procurement is the key to change and says the Procurement Reform Bill gives MSPs the opportunity to ensure the private and voluntary sectors are not left in the cold.

The survey will be a key focus of the community sector conference later this week. Organised by UNISON and the STUC, the conference – Holding the Line: Maintaining Standards in a Time of Austerity – will bring all the major agencies together, including those who procure the services, those who work in the field and representatives of users and carers.

Lilian Macer, UNISON’s Scottish Convener, said: “This survey must ring alarm bells. The Scottish Government should give charities the means to do what they do best and that is to improve lives and care for people.

“As austerity has bitten, funding for these contracts has been squeezed to breaking point. Staff morale dips, low pay is endemic, leading to rising levels of personal debt and long-term financial hardship for many in the sector.

“While charities are reputable and trusted by the public, they do not have a magic wand, so cuts are putting vulnerable people at risk.”

Mike Kirby, UNISON’s Scottish Secretary, said: “The voluntary sector attracts many thousands of dedicated, hardworking staff, who know that they won’t be paid big bonus salaries but who have a right to expect a fair deal for their clients and themselves. Instead many workers are bearing of damaging cuts to their pay and conditions.

“Charities increasingly rely on winning public sector contracts just to survive. It is vital that procurement legislation is used to change this. It should be made mandatory that those bidding for public sector contracts pay their workers the living wage, so that workers in the private and voluntary sectors are not being paid less for doing work of equal value. We must also ensure that those who provide these services are adequately funding to maintain levels of service.

“We have always campaigned alongside our communities for equality and social justice. Our community sector conference will bring all of the major agencies together – including those who procure the services, those who work in the field and representatives of users and carers – to find a way to maintain the essential services provided by the third sector.”


Key survey results from Scotland (406 workers were surveyed)

Services for children
69% are concerned that children may be slipping through the safety net 

High risk areas
15% do not have enough time to monitor children and follow up on concerns of neglect or abuse.
15% report an increasing risk in administering medications
39% do not have enough time to prepare risk assessments and support plans
42% can now provide fewer resources (such as toys)
44% can now provide fewer outside activities (such as visits)
Since austerity 39% have less time to spend with each child 

Services for disabled people
73% say clients are being left at risk because their care package has been reduced.
49% are seeing more clients moved into “the community” without proper support.
63% report that service users are becoming more socially isolated, and 72% of these are concerned that this results in self-harm and depression.
57% of staff report less time with each service user.
46% are not able to provide clients with all the help they need.
49% believe that less frequent care reviews are leading to inadequate support.
45% report delays in replacing faulty equipment.
63% are concerned about high staff turnover.

Housing services
72% report more tenants are falling behind with their rent
35%* (*please note this is a UK-wide figure) said the top reason was the bedroom tax.
The next most common reasons were:
– complex benefit changes
– the rising cost of living
– under-employment and un-employment
– financial hardship.

38% have seen an increase in tenants being evicted or forced to move because of financial pressures.
32% have seen a reduction in non-statutory services (such as play schemes and community centres).
60% report more debt management advisors being employed by their housing
42% report a rise in anti-social behaviour from tenants.

Other services
Workers in the many other services in the community and voluntary sector also expressed their concern about being able to do a good job.

36% of respondents said they had less time with each service user.
Only 41% said they were able to provide service users with all the help they need.

Impact on the workforce
In the last year, 15% reported that their take-home pay has decreased
55% of staff said their pay had remained the same
20% of staff don’t get paid the living wage

The average level of personal debt is around £1,500
24% reported they were over £10,000 in debt
22% have more than one job
4% have four or more jobs
7% are on a zero hours contract

Notes to editors

1. The speak-out survey was carried out throughout the UK with more than 3,000 workers surveyed. The figures included in this release are based on the results of the 406 workers surveyed in Scotland.

The report is on the UNISON UK site here:
https://www.unison.org.uk/upload/sharepoint/ On%20line%20Catalogue/21929.pdf

2. The community sector conference – Holding the Line: Maintaining Standards in a Time of Austerity – will be held on Friday, November 8, in Glasgow.

3.  As part of Living Wage Week, UNISON – together with the Scottish Living Wage Campaign and the STUC – will be lobbying the Scottish Parliament on Thursday, November 7, calling for changes to public sector procurement.

For further information please contact:
Mike Kirby, UNISON’s Scottish Secretary, on 07939 143 355
Dave Watson, UNISON’s Scottish Organiser, on 07958 122 409
Trisha Hamilton, UNISON’s Communications Officer, on 0141 342 2877.