Can the SNP continue to aim high for Scotland’s care sector?

Press offices across the Union are rife with debate over Scotland’s political future, after the SNP’s historical election victory last week saw the party achieve an unlikely majority in Holyrood, but independence aside the care sector will be bracing itself to see if the new Government can live up to quite a significant list of electioneering promises.

The SNP was not unique in recognising healthcare as a major issue for Scotland, with the challenges of an ageing demographic a cause for increasing anxiety, but the party has made a number of significant pledges that further existing policies, such as free social care, which many economic experts already believe to be unsustainable. In the process, leader Alex Salmond has not humoured any likelihood of frontline service cuts or the kind of stricter eligibility criteria that many authorities in England and Wales are implementing.

The care sector has, therefore, become a clear issue upon which the SNP are hoping to show a different style of Government to that displayed by Westminster and there are specific developments the party’s ‘Carers’ Manifesto’ made that will now need to be lived up to. While praising the work of carers in taking the pressure off vital public services, the Manifesto promised to set up a ‘Carer’s Parliament’ that will allow for stronger communication between the sector and their MSPs, provide a £14m Change Fund to support unpaid carers, achieve easier access to Education Maintenance allowance for young carers, and to establish an Energy Assistance package for elderly and vulnerable people.

This level of expectation arrives after some already significant care-related developments have occurred over the last month, without even delving into the world of politics. The most obvious of these being the transformation of regulator the Care Commission, which has now become the Social Care and Social Work Improvement Scotland (SCSWIS). The new body has announced its commitment to a ‘three-year programme of change to scrutinise and improve care, social work and children’s services’, set up to unify previously independent areas of inspection; a ‘Who We Are and What We Do’ leaflet is imminent to clarify more specifically what this might mean for providers.

Another crucial factor it would be unwise to overlook is that of the Rosepark Care Home inquiry, the longest in Scottish legal history, which began in November 2009 and concluded in February of this year and was finally in a position to wrap up its findings with the publishing of a 1,000-page report. Fourteen people died in the 2004 tragedy which resulted in numerous errors being unearthed by an investigative team that might yet have an impact upon health and safety, maintenance and risk assessment regulations, with the SNP’s commitment to the sector an added incentive for lobbyists to apply the pressure.

The debate has already begun as to whether the SNP can keep all of its pledges, with the care sector not alone in wondering as to the possibility of becoming a political football should Westminster not respond amicably to the party’s request for greater taxation powers. Even if Scotland does continue to protect its care services beyond what economists believe to be workable, another major concern is that being swept up by the political storm brewing over the possibility of independence might not prove to be the healthiest landscape in which to thrive.