CARE TAX IN SCOTLAND
You can read my opening speech below:
I thank everyone who signed the motion and who is here for the debate. I particularly note that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport will respond to the debate herself, acknowledging the significance of the issue for many people. I also acknowledge the work of the Scotland against the care tax and Frank’s law campaigns, the Coalition of Carers in Scotland and all the other tireless campaigners who have focused their attention on the significant issues that are faced by disabled people and those who need social care. I acknowledge the particular role of my former MSP colleague Siobhan McMahon, who, while she was here, pursued these issues with great passion and commitment. She insisted that I, for one, should ensure that they continue to be raised now that she is no longer in this place.
I do not pretend to be an expert on these important issues, so I am grateful to all the organisations that provided briefings for the debate. They highlight a wide range of concerns, including the lack of consistency across Scotland, the unmet needs of those with neurological conditions who are under 65, the danger of cost deterring the uptake of low-level preventative care measures and many more—too many for me to cover in the debate. At the heart of it, we must recognise that, behind every story that is told and every issue that is raised, there are human beings who are experiencing difficulties that have been caused not by them but by a system that does not properly acknowledge their needs.
I am pleased to say that many of those who understand and live with these issues are with us in the public gallery tonight and will be involved in a meeting following the debate in which we will continue the conversation. I hope that the cabinet secretary and other members will be able to attend that meeting with us.
In too many debates, there is a danger that we settle for identifying others to blame and sit back on what we are doing ourselves. In building a consensus, I think that there is a central role for the Scottish Government in refreshing its approach and in understanding and addressing the unintended consequences of some of its political choices. Local government must do that, too, in its actions in the area. What we cannot do is put the issue in a political “too hard” box and settle for telling people how much we care, without taking the action that matches that concern.
The motion highlights the fundamental injustice in the facts that disabled people and those with long-term conditions such as dementia and motor neurone disease are paying more for social care services; that, astoundingly, over the period 2009 to 2013, the amount of money that was collected from older and disabled people rose at approximately four times the rate of inflation; that the charges are, in effect, a tax that the rest of us do not have to pay; that disabled people contribute to mainstream services that they cannot access unless the social care that allows them to do so is funded; and that the cost of care—its availability and affordability—is seeing people priced out of using services, with a consequent cost to their wellbeing and with an impact on their unpaid carers, who pick up the slack.
We know that disabled people are more likely to be living in poverty and to be on the front line when it comes to facing the consequences of the austerity approach of the Tory Government, but we should not compound their problems by the choices that we make. We know that it makes no economic sense to ignore disability-related expenditure—the extra cost of heating, of transport and of simply living—and to deny disabled people who want to work the opportunity to fulfil their potential and to contribute through taxation. The fact that it costs them to work means that their loved ones have to live with greater stress and ill health. That approach increases costs, causes more crises and results in more emergency admissions to hospital. Instead of being in a position in which proper funding is provided for preventative spending, we are in one in which people can be supported only once they are in crisis.
As we look at our national health service, we know that the solution, in large part, is to invest in local government rather than targeting it disproportionately for cuts. That is a rational means of improving the health and wellbeing of all our citizens. Therefore, it is rational and a matter of logic and of justice to address the issue; critically, it is also a matter of human rights. The issue is not about our being able to display how much we care, how much we empathise or how we can be a little kinder to disabled people and those with long-term conditions; no, it is about how we live up to our oft-repeated commitment to human rights and equality. It is not a “maybe”; it should be a “must”.
To the people who say, “I get that—there is an issue here, but it’s just too expensive; we can’t afford to eradicate care charges,” I say this: educating our young people is expensive, but we do not suggest that we should educate only our boys because we cannot afford to educate all our young people, so why can it be acceptable to deny disabled people the right to live independently and the right to access work and economic opportunities? Why can it be acceptable for the needs of two people with the same degenerative condition to be supported differently on the grounds of age or because of where they live?
We have a fundamental choice to make. We can increase the size of the resource cake to meet needs fairly, through taxation, or we can redistribute the existing resource cake fairly, but we cannot, in all conscience, shrug our shoulders at what is a manifest injustice and a denial of the human rights of all too many in our communities. I seek from the minister an acknowledgement of the problem and a commitment to act. It cannot be left till some distant point in the future when we will have solved the problem of spending more while taxing less. This is work that Parliament can do right now. We can support the Government in developing a proper strategy that focuses on the injustice of the problem of the imposition of a care tax on those who need support services in order to live their lives independently. We need a commitment to justice, and we must work with those who understand best what it is like to live with a disability without the means to achieve their potential.
This is an urgent matter. It is a matter of equality and of human rights, and I believe that it requires us all to show a little bit of courage. We must be willing to be bold and to say that the issue is a problem, that it is one on which we can act, that we will open up the debate about why taxation should benefit all in our communities and that a fair distribution of resources would mean that we could all achieve our potential. It is an area in which we can come together as a Parliament to confront issues that matter directly to far too many people across our communities.
I look forward to the debate, and I hope that it is just the start of a wider debate that will result in our making a difference and responding to the long-held campaigning convictions of those who deserve the right to equality and justice.
You can watch the full debate here: