A trade union has called for the Scottish Government to step in to help care workers forced to make “impossible choices” between family and work commitments during the covid-19 crisis.

Officials are being asked to issue specific guidance to employers that care staff should be offered alternative roles or be considered for furlough if they face problems with childcare or vulnerable family members.

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Unite claims some workers have been forced to take unpaid leave due to family commitments, while others have made the “heartbreaking” decision to continue working even though they live with loved ones who are seriously at risk from the virus.

The Scottish Government said the furlough scheme is available to workers in the social care sector who are shielding or caring for a vulnerable relative, and that they are looking at more flexible working arrangements for those with childcare responsibilities.

However, Pat Rafferty, Unite Scottish secretary, claimed more direct action is needed as some organisations are not willing to consider making adjustments for staff.

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He said: “The personal stories of carers and support workers are heartbreaking. It is abundantly clear that there is often minimal compassion and flexibility shown by many employers in the sector.

“Nobody should be forced to leave their job or take leave without pay. Neither should any worker feel that they have no choice but to turn up to work, putting themselves under enormous personal strain. 

"But these are the impossible choices workers are having to make over finances, child and caring responsibilities, and potentially exposing themselves and loved ones to Covid-19.

“We are asking the Scottish Government to intervene to issue specific direction to employers in the sector that in these extenuating circumstances carers and support workers who have been on the frontline of combatting Covid-19 be given mutually agreed alternative roles or they be furloughed on full pay.”

The Herald is aware of several carers facing personal difficulties, including care home worker Claire Green,who works at Westerton Care Home in Bearsden.

The single parent is the sole carer for her daughter as her mother, who usually provides childcare, is shielding due to a cancer diagnosis.

Ms Green said: “I love my job and care about the residents in the care home but I also have a family to care for too. 

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"The schooling option for key workers is great, but for me it would have meant two bus journeys there, and two back, as I am reliant on public transport. I simply couldn't take that risk for my own family, or the chance of bringing in the virus to the care home.  I would’ve been so concerned that I might have spread the virus to our residents.

"Furloughing seemed like a logical option and would have been the safest and most compassionate one too.  

"I requested this in mid April. I still believe I was doing the right thing by my family and the residents by staying safe and staying home in line with Government guidance. 

"I'm so disappointed that I wasn't given this option and instead have been left without any income through no fault of my own.”

Another care worker, who deals with people suffering from drug and alcohol addiction, told how she lives with - and cares for - her 92-year-old father who struggles with ill-health.

The woman, who asked not to be named, is worried that she might pass the virus on to him.

She said: "I am extremely worried and fearful for the health and well-being of my dad and what I may bring home to him.

"I asked that I be furloughed for this reason and was told that it was not available as [the service] is public funded. I am extremely disappointed and feel totally let down. I feel as though they do not care about me or their employees on the frontline or the issues we have.”

Another carer, who works for supported living service, is also struggling as he has a pregnant wife and a child with special needs and health issues at home.

The worker, who also asked to remain anonymous, said: "I am in and out of people’s homes all day and have reported that families are still coming in and out of homes against guidelines, but nothing is being done to stop this.

“I asked if I could be given furlough because of my wife and child and also the problems that it is creating between me and my wife. She is very worried that I may bring something home.”

However, he claims he was told that this is not possible because the organisation is publicly funded.

He challenged this following advice from Unite, but his bosses still refused.

“If I could, I would leave," he added. "But I have to provide for my family. It’s a disgrace.” 

Another social care worker also told how she is concerned for her own health as she has asthma and COPD , but has to continue to work as she is not considered such a high risk that she has to shield.

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She claims that when she asked her employer for furlough, they told her that they "don't do furlough".

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Scotland’s dedicated social care workers are on the frontline of our national pandemic response. Their work is always hugely valued, never more so than now.

“We have confirmed their status as key workers and their access to childcare and other support where required. We are also taking steps to understand how we can adopt a more flexible working environment which best suits the needs of those balancing childcare or caring responsibilities during the pandemic.

“However, where needed, the furlough scheme can be used if social care workers need to shield, or are prevented from working to protect a vulnerable relative and we expect employers to recognise the different circumstances of employees.

“Our guidance on workforce planning makes it clear we expect employers to take workers’ childcare considerations into account. We would welcome a discussion with employers on how we can support them."