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Nicola Sturgeon pledges to look again at care worker pay rises as ministers ponder death in service benefit

Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.
Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to look again at pay rises for care workers as the Scottish Government considers extending the death in service benefit to those who who make the “ultimate sacrifice”.

At her daily Covid-19 briefing in Edinburgh, the first minister said the pay of those in the frontline would be one of the things considered in the fall-out from the crisis.

The Scottish Government’s strategic document on exiting lockdown, published this week, said the response to the virus must not make the “mistakes” of the austerity policies in the aftermath of the 2008 banking crisis.

The document also suggested the crisis offered a chance to look at how society operates.

Ms Sturgeon was asked if that would apply to paying care workers, many of whom are on less than £10 an hour, a better wage that reflected the importance of the job.

The first minister said those on the health service’s frontline deserved to be paid “fairly and properly” and stressed Scottish care workers are paid more than those elsewhere in the UK.

But she added that the crisis was making everyone think about decisions in the future.

“When we get to the point when we are not day to day in a fight against this virus, being able to think how we do things better in the future than we perhaps have done in the past and the role and the rewards of those who work in our frontline services will definitely be a key part of that discussion,” Ms Sturgeon said.

The Scottish Government has faced growing calls to ensure all health workers who die while working against coronavirus qualify for death in service benefits.

Unions including the BMA, Royal College of Nursing and Unison have lobbied Holyrood since the outbreak came to the forefront of Scottish life.

It is understood an arrangement at Westminster is likely to be announced soon, with one source saying it would be “unlikely” the Scottish Government would not want its own arrangement in place by then.

Johanna Baxter, Unison head of local government, said:  “Unison is in talks with the Scottish Government to ensure all public service workers are eligible for death in service benefits.

“Home care workers are putting themselves and their families at risk caring for others and the least they should expect is that their families will not be left not only grieving but in financial difficulty if they succumb to the virus.

“It’s stressful enough providing frontline care, particularly now, and this benefit should be for all public sector workers. ”

Ms Sturgeon was asked at the briefing whether she personally would support the introduction of a death in service benefit for care workers, and when the Scottish Government expected to be able to provide an update.

She said: “The health secretary has been looking closely at this.

“In short, we want to get a solution that makes sure everybody who is working on the frontline in our health service has the protection – not just the physical protection but broader protection – they need.”

Ms Sturgeon added it is a matter “we attach a great deal of importance to” and said she would provide an update on “where exactly that is and when we expect that issue to be resolved”.

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