The crisis of social care in Tory Britain has hit the headlines recently, with a lack of funding and an exodus of care workers leaving the system on the point of collapse. We provide here the story of care worker and Socialist Appeal reader, who outlines in moving detail the horrific conditions facing care workers and the people they support.
I recently read that almost one thousand care workers quit their jobs every day and that there is now a shortfall of 84,000 workers in the sector. Data shows job turnover in the care work sector is nearly twice the national average. Being a care worker myself I am not in the slightest bit surprised. Indeed, no one should be surprised when you consider the rates of pay and the working conditions we have to bear.
However, don’t let anyone tell you that we leave because we don’t like our job. We are the legs and arms of the most vulnerable in our society, and for someone with a caring disposition, the levels of satisfaction you get from doing this job is second-to-none. I can personally attest to the fact that care workers are forced to leave because of poor and unfair working conditions.
Most local authorities have handed over responsibility by outsourcing domiciliary care work to agencies. Only a minority remain employed by local authorities. We are stuck with zero-hour contracts and no rights in any shape or form with which to defend ourselves. When we take into account the fact that we don’t get paid for travelling between calls, our wages end up well below the national minimum wage.
We are forced to worry constantly about not being given enough hours work to pay our rent or bills and about having to find food banks in case they don’t give us enough work. On the other hand, we are constantly worrying because we don’t have enough time to properly care for people and often must leave people in distress due to the time constraints that are imposed on us.
I remember looking at my rota, when I first started, and seeing that I had been allocated 13 hours work in one single day. I rang the agency and asking them if it was legal to work so many hours in a single day. I was asked bluntly, “do you want the job or not?” And so I got up at 06:00 to start my shift with slots of between 15-45 minutes, depending on the needs of the client. I drove to my first house and found my client with MS, bedbound, and in need of a full wash and a breakfast. By the end of the allocated time I found that I had only done half of what I was meant to have done, and with regret I had to rush out to my next call, promising that I would be back by lunch.
I arrived at the next call to find a lady with dementia playing with her own faeces and unable to comprehend who I was or how to swallow her medication. “Should this lady be in her house? Shouldn’t she be in a home where she can get be treated by people that have been trained in mental illnesses?”, I asked myself. Panic took over and I started to ask myself if simply having a caring nature is enough to get you through this job. But there is no time to think - just rush to the next call.
I remember by 16:00 that afternoon I called the agency and told them I was mentally and physically exhausted and asked if they could find someone else to take some of my calls. “We don’t have anybody else sweetie, just toughen up and carry on,” I was told. By the end of the day, at around 22:30, I had had enough. I was exhausted, hungry and past caring to be honest. “I’ll get home and hand in my notice,” I thought to myself. I just felt dehumanised. I went to my last call, back to see the lady with MS again. She was still in bed and was waiting for me to clean her, change her pad, and offer her the last cup of tea of the day. She managed to hold my hand and said to me that I was an angel, that all her care workers are angels, and that she could see I was going to be a good one. And that did it for me; I then knew that I would continue to be a care worker.
But reality hits you hard and the truth is that it is difficult to work when you depend on an agency that gives you zero-hour contracts, that exploits you and makes you feel like you are scum of the earth. They ask you to send in photos of your flat tyre, because they don’t believe you; they get annoyed with you if you get sick; they call you lazy and unprofessional if you protest for having to do 12 hour shifts, and so on.
Recently one of my fellow care workers collapsed in a house due to exhaustion. She had been working solidly all weekend. She then handed in her resignation, and when I called the agency they told me she was not suited to the job. But of course she was suited to the job! She was such a good carer that she pushed herself to the point of needing care herself. It is a completely disgraceful treatment of the most downtrodden. It is no wonder that staff turnover is so high. These atrocities breed resentment, undermine morale and ultimately lead to depression. They are truly exploiting our good nature.
The Tory government’s failure to fund social care is making life extremely hard for care workers and for the most vulnerable people in our communities. In doing so they are putting more pressure on the NHS, as people go to hospital for care they used to get at home.
It would appear they would rather have our elderly - who have worked so hard to own a house - sell their homes to pay for their care in private nursing homes, from which the rich can then squeeze more profits. For the poorest and most vulnerable, without the privilege of owning their own home, it would appear that they would rather they die as soon as possible. We, the workers and the most vulnerable in this society, are being let down by an unfair system in which profit prevails over everything.