HUNDREDS of Scottish grandparents took to the streets outside the city chambers in Glasgow and Edinburgh yesterday to lobby council candidates for a better deal for kinship carers.
The move was said to be a rare public demonstration by a normally very private group of people, prompted by desperation. Kinship carers, usually grandparents, aunts or uncles, are the hidden army that has come to the defence of an estimated 15,000 children in Scotland whose parents are unfit to care for them through drug or alcohol addiction.
Some are paid child benefit but others are not; some receive allowances paid by councils, others do not. The amounts vary from area to area and also according to whether children are in informal arrangements, officially designated as "looked after" or placed as a result of a court order.
This complex pattern has been dubbed a "postcode lottery" by kinship carers but is the result of adapting provision to deal with the toll of addiction on a generation of parents.
Glasgow City Council has just increased payments from £40 to £50 a week, a move welcomed by carers such as Sadie Prior, a grandmother from North Glasgow. However, she said many other issues also need to be addressed. She said: "Many of these children need psychological help because they have problems stemming from their mothers' drug abuse and behaviour they have witnessed. Some get six weeks' treatment but it's not enough. A serious problem is the delay in getting child benefit transferred from the mother, which can take 18 months."
Citizens Advice Scotland says it receives so many inquiries on kinship care, it has set up a specialist unit on the issue. David Brownlee, head of development at CAS, said: "Changing the national structure of kinship care payments is a hugely complex issue. The priority should be to ensure there is a sufficient rate of payments, rather than necessarily a flat rate. The system needs to be simplified, and clarified so carers know what they are entitled to."
It comes after Labour called for a national standard to be established across Scotland and urged the First Minister to deliver on a promise to pay kinship carers the same allowances as those given to foster carers.
In 2007, the Labour Party set out proposals to "fast track" £10 million of funding into council budgets so family members caring for looked-after children would be paid the same rates as foster carers.
Alex Salmond said at the time the issue was "of the most serious concern" and the Parliament would move together to "make progress with the proposals".
Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour's health spokes- woman at Holyrood, said: "The SNP has broken many of their promises, but this is one of the most serious betrayals."
In a statement following Labour's claims, a Government spokesman said: "The Scottish Government wants Scotland to be the best country in the world to bring up children.
"That is why we are supporting kinship carers and have done more than any previous administration to address their needs. Through the Children's Services Bill we are determined to tackle the inconsistencies faced by kinship carers across the country and ensure they receive fair financial support for caring for some of Scotland's most vulnerable children."