Ross Wilkie has worked with people with disabilities for over 20 years. He was on the picket line in front of the Carlton Day Centre, which is set to be closed, sold, and replaced with a three-story commercial building.
Ross explains, “We try to find the aspirations and goals of every person we care for. It can be difficult because we work with people who can only communicate with their eyes or their fingers or their toes.
“We have to find a system of communicating with every person, and that takes time and involves building up a relationship of trust.”
Services and activities are then provided in groups and with as much one-to-one attention as possible, including cookery and home skills, literacy, numeracy, drama, sports, and daytrips.
Striker Janette Millar has worked for the council for 36 years. She said, “We use a social model of disability.
“The problem is not that there is something wrong with the person. The problem is that our society is not properly organised to meet everyone’s needs.
“This is because of profit.”
In most cases, people with disabilities just want to be able to do the things that everyone enjoys doing, they just require more support.
Ross explained, “There are a multitude of adaptations you can get – computers and all kinds of other things.
“We have those in the centre for people to use, so they can do things such as surf the internet, listen to music, play their favourite games.
“But can you find these things ‘in the community?’
“I don’t think so. One man I worked with just wanted to be able to turn the television on.
“One day he did it accidentally and you should have seen the difference in his face. We got a special remote control for him so he can do it all the time.”
Adaptations to make day-to-day activities more accessible are expensive. Year after year of cuts have taken their toll on the services that workers have been able to provide.
At a mass meeting for carers last week, one woman stood up and angrily demanded an explanation from the council’s director of social work.
She said, “There used to be evening events in the centre. Why has that all stopped? My daughter used to go swimming, but she doesn’t get there now.
“She used to go horseriding, but that doesn’t happen anymore. She used to have a computer, and that’s been taken away.
“There used to be sports activities. She used to get a £1 a week allowance, and now that has been taken off them too.”
Workers have a budget of £4 per person per day to cover food, activities, and transport.
With increasing cutbacks, they complain that shopping malls have become one of the only accessible public spaces for people with disabilities.
Despite the cutbacks to services, until now people with disabilites had been cared for by well-trained staff with a long term commitment to the people they cared for.
Five years ago the council decided that all “day service workers” (the majority of staff) should be qualified to SVQ level 3.
This formally recognised the complexity of the job workers were doing, and provided additional background training.
Now the council wants to downgrade day service workers to an SVQ level 2. This involves only hands-on training to meet people’s basic bodily needs.
“It’s a cost-cutting exercise,” explained Sobia Rasool, who has been in the job for 14 years and faces a £3,000 wage cut.
A few weeks before the strike began, Glasgow council also announced it wanted to “reorganise” day services. It plans on reducing the number of day centres from 11 to five.
The centres would be hubs that would primarily care for people with more complex needs, while those with less complex needs would be cared for “in the community”.
“That sounds great,” said striker Collette Hall. “But those services don’t exist yet. There is not one place we can go in the entire west of Scotland that has a changing table and hoist.”
The plan also calls for a “re-configuration of the workforce” to retain the same number of staff but in less skilled positions and at a lower wage.
“The day centre staff are interested in my son as a person, and he is entitled to that,” explained one woman whose adult son normally attends Glasgow’s Southbrae Day Centre four days a week.
But today her son is part of a demonstration of 250 day centre workers and service users in front of the City Chambers.
“Look at him,” she said. “You can see that he is among friends. They mean such a lot to him. We are here to give them our support.”
Donations and messages of support to Glasgow Unison, 4th floor, 18 Albion Street, Glasgow G2 4PF.