By Chris Law

AS a child I had no idea my foster parents got no sick pay, holiday pay or a guaranteed minimum wage. Shockingly, this is still the case. Being classed as “self-employed” also denies them whistleblowing protections, making them extremely vulnerable if they raise concerns. Those who speak out stand to lose not just their livelihoods but their children. But this week a landmark legal victory by Glasgow-based foster care workers Jimmy and Christine Johnstone has opened the door to change across the UK.

Jimmy and Christine are members of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which represents foster care workers across the UK. The Johnstones were forced to whistleblow when they were left in fear for their lives and the life of the child they were fostering. This began a four -ear legal battle to get their rights recognised. This final ruling confirming the Johnstones were not only workers but employees of Glasgow City Council is the first time that a UK employment appeal tribunal has recognised employment rights for any foster carer.

This victory by the Johnstones and the IWGB represents a significant step towards the recognition of these rights for all those working in one of the UK’s most important and undervalued public services. I call it our “fourth emergency service” because that’s what it is: a professional and dedicated staff who respond to crises and save lives.

I was the child of a severely disabled single mother and for me foster care offered vital respite and support. Without it I would not be the person I am today. Decades later, I still struggle to speak about those experiences. As an MP I still hear care-experienced young people describing the same feelings I once had of low self-worth, of being on the edge of society, unseen.

The silence forced on foster care workers has a role in this, too. As long as society turns a blind eye to these children and denies their carers basic rights, it sends the message “you’re not important. We don’t want to talk about this.” That is why the work being done by the IWGB to provide them with trade union representation and advocacy is so vital.

The case for foster carers to be classified as employees is clear. No one should have to work without basic rights like sick pay, holiday pay and a guaranteed minimum wage, least of all those providing homes to the children who need it most. Showing that we value foster carers is the best way for society to value their work and the young people in their care.

As an MP, I am committed to making sure Jimmy and Christine’s hard-won victory opens the door for the recognition of all foster care workers’ rights and the wider work being done by the IWGB’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Foster Care Workers Rights offers a valuable roadmap for this.

Like many, the love and support from my foster family went above and beyond the call of duty. Both to replicate successes and protect from failures, the foster care sector urgently needs independent oversight and worker rights. I urge the Scottish Government to take note of this case and review its foster care arrangements as a matter of urgency because as I know better than most, foster care is a job. In fact it’s probably one of the most important jobs in the world.

Chris Law is SNP MP for Dundee West