ACROSS the board both home and away, the charity sector has faced no shortage of challenges lately. The same applies here in Scotland to those organisations working within social care.
Based on 2016 Audit Scotland figures, it’s estimated that some £667 million would be needed by 2020 to deliver current services. These figures themselves were based on forecasts of only a 20 per cent cut in public spending by that date. Almost inevitably this sets the scene for an environment in which charities are faced with bidding for government contracts that are barely sustainable. The same charities must also try to deliver services that invariably fall short of the desired mark, while staff is paid less than they should be.
It’s with these challenges in mind that two of Scotland’s leading disability charities, Enable and Sense Scotland, have made the decision to undergo a “merger” of sorts in an effort to protect and grow frontline social care services.
In a move thought to be the first of its kind in the charity sector in Scotland, both are in effect saying they will not longer compete against each other for funding. This marks something of a rethink in the way charities respond strategically to the financial challenges they face.
By forming a partnership with shared support services, the reduction in costs over three years of at least £10m in duplicated efforts on bidding and procurement, IT and maintenance they argue, will mean money freed up to invest in frontline services. The benefits from this are obvious, enabling both charities to reach even more disabled people throughout Scotland. It also would help overcome what some in the sector recognise as the failure of current self-directed support policies, effectively providing a better chance of giving people control, choice and budgets to commission their own support. For some time it’s been clear that this has not been happening in swathes of the country.
Inevitably any such talk of restructuring raises the spectre of redundancies but both Enable and Sense Scotland have been at pains to stress that while some jobs will be affected, the priority is in redeployment within the new structure. Wages too, they say, will be more effectively addressed.
Some 15 per cent of Scotland’s care workforce are reported to be affected by in-work poverty. Given this, its not surprising that the sector suffers from high staff turnover. This inconsistency inevitably leaves the most vulnerable being cared for by poorly trained, constantly changing staff.
Against this backdrop they warn lurks the ever present threat that social care becomes unsustainable to such an extent that we are forced back towards institutionalisation of the elderly, disabled and those with mental health problems. To that extent should such a proactive and innovative response as is proposed act as a bulwark against such moves, then it is undoubtedly something to be welcomed.
There will be some within the charity community fearful that such an approach heralds the rise of the “mega-charity” swallowing up smaller bodies or crowding them out of what for some years has become an increasingly competitive arena in term of government funding. The flip side to this scenario though is that for that same length of time the private sector has itself made greater inroads into social care and that such a restructuring by charities is the only way for them to survive.
What ultimately matters here is ensuring that the best possible care and support services go to who need it most. In a joint statement Enable and Sense Scotland, insist that by bringing the two charities together they will “accelerate change and improvement for disabled people, and for the dedicated staff who care for them.” That indeed would be a welcome result.