Care Workers – who cares?



Today the government have announced a crack down on low-skilled migrants entering the country with their pesky work ethic and helping to look after our sick and vulnerable. To insist that people arriving in the UK have an income of above £25K automatically rejects care workers, farm labourers, refuse and sanitation workers and many of those in the hospitality industry and education sector who are well below this threshold. It also is a bit of a stretch for physios, nurses, paramedics, midwives and occupational therapists who have a starting salary of £24.2K. So, generally, I, like many, have a few issues with the policy. But let’s not get started on that. Let’s look at what it means to be classed as unskilled and told you’re not required when you actually do one of the most important jobs in society – caring.

Mum hasn’t had many carers. She has Dad. But, as regular followers of the blog will know, my sister and I have had to fight tooth and nail to make our father understand that he needs time out now and again and thus, some outside help has been sought. Initially we had  The Lovely Alison She worked for a company who mainly catered to the entertainment and socialisation needs of people living with dementia. Alison is an actress, a good one, I’ve seen her on the actual telly. She also teaches drama to groups of kids and is an all round good egg. But the most good-eggish thing that Alison does is dedicate part of her time to looking after people with Alzheimer’s. For this she is paid about the same as a waitress. That’s probably a reasonable comparison; service industry, client facing, minimal paper qualifications but a significant amount of common sense and thinking on your feet required. So far so good.

But then we come to the next step (AA – After Alison), now that Alison’s skills are no longer so relevant to this phase of Mum’s dementia; this phase is personal care. People who help others get up, washed, dressed, fed and watered. For this we use a different agency and we have become accustomed to a new set of people with different skills. These carers are actually putting themselves at risk by doing their job. They risk their own backs by manual handling and lifting, they risk their own safety coming into the homes of those who may be distressed and therefore aggressive in their confusion, and they risk transmission of infectious disease, dealing as they do with bodily fluids on a regular basis. They do all this with a smile on their faces and a cheery disposition that would lead you to believe they are paid handsomely for the privilege. But these carers are paid less that Alison. They are paid less that most people. The average salary for a care worker is around £8 per hour with a total annual salary of around £17K, far below our glorious leader’s idea of a suitable wage to justify admission to the country.

For that £8 a carer will attend to every basic need; the fundamentals of what it is to live in a civilised society. Those who are hungry are fed, those who are soiled can be cleansed, those who are immobile can be moved. These are not insubstantial things. These are often Herculean tasks. Ensuring adequate nutrition and hydration in someone too frail to get a spoon to their lips or too confused to understand hunger and thirst is not easy. Moving someone heavy and unwieldy or perhaps too weak to co-ordinate their limbs is hard, and especially difficult to do safely. Cleaning up when someone has not made it to the bathroom in time, ensuring that all those intimate body crevices are kept clean and dry. Maintaining someone’s dignity and pride throughout this process…. Who would do that on a regular basis? For a stranger?

Why do we undervalue carers so much? Is it perceived as women’s work or the kind of thing that the serving classes would have undertaken in a bygone era? Are we still judging careers and place in society based on values from a time before female emancipation, a time of indentured servitude and slavery? I really don’t understand it.

We need carers. We will all face a time in our lives when we need help maintaining our own bodies or those of loved ones. No man is an island and I for one would prefer it if this Island could at least pretend to be appreciative of those who travel here to undertake the work that we good old Brits won’t do ourselves. But if we’re not going to let people in to do our caring for us then we are going to be faced with a massive challenge. The state will have to pay the natives a hell of a lot more than current market rate to get the work done.

Maybe, indirectly, this is the way to raise the profile of caring as a profession. When UK citizens have to do the work themselves maybe they will feel more able to demand appropriate remuneration. Maybe that’s the silver lining.

Bloody hope so.


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