Yesterday, a call went out from our Government, encouraging young people to consider a care worker job.
According to the BBC, there are more than 100,000 vacancies in the sector, and it’s hardly surprising.
I worked in this sector for just under two years, eventually being fired when I was diagnosed with MS, after a horrendous and sustained bullying campaign by the management.
In my idealistic mind, I wanted to experience care at the coal face, in preparation for undertaking a Master’s in Social Work. After a low-paid, local job for ten years, to juggle childcare as the only present parent, I was now free-ish to explore further opportunities.
So I signed up, went through the random induction course and donned my uniform.
For care companies, a 15-minute call is gold-dust – we would turn up, dispense medication, undertake vital care-checks, whizz round the kitchen, take out rubbish, talk to the customer, clean the toilet, note our concerns and perhaps make a cold lunch for later. For this, we would earn under £4.
It’s sold to families as the answer to their ‘problem’, i.e their parent/relative and the care company earns more, percentage wise for these calls, so they are heavily promoted.
Then, a long journey to the other end of the city – mileage paid at the lower end of the scale (after six weeks or so) and nothing for time. I often spent 45 minutes in heavy traffic, knowing I was not earning a penny.
My first timetable lasted from 6.45am to 9pm. Four visits, bringing in around £25, but being on call for over 13 hours. It was important to sidle up to the care-coordinator as they could make or break you with the scheduled visits. If your face didn’t fit, you got the terrible calls.
And I mean terrible; despair, neglect, cruelty, we saw it all. We coped with incredible emotional demands, and were massively under-prepared to deal with severe dementia, bereavement, depression and so many more conditions. And all for a minimum wage, zero-hours contract.
I’ve seen a lot in my life, but nothing prepared me for this underworld of care. It’s brutal. Visits are cut under new directives, or lack of ability to pay. Relatives implore you to stay a little longer. I once cared for a couple who both had dementia and went to their care home in my own time to clean their toilet, as they were convinced someone had broken in and used it.
We criss-crossed the city, cleaning mess, soothing, caring, noting concerns in care file which would never truly be looked at unless an inspection was imminent or anticipated. We were timed and admonished if we went over the allotted minutes, despite it being unpaid.
In effect, we were massively underpaid social workers, by any other name, except we got our hands dirty.
Care work, as it stands, is not for most people, far less young people. I would rather they sought work in pubs, cafes, restaurants, where people are happy and optimistic.
Until care work, such a vital resource, is recognised and rewarded, it will never be viewed as a valid career option. Why do we outsource the care of our most vulnerable people to underpaid, under-trained and unprepared people? We do not do this in kindergartens or schools, so why treat elderly and disabled people in such a warehoused manner?