I have found myself wondering recently about how my life has turned out. My working life has taken a few turns and twists over the decades and yet again I find myself wondering how I got to where I am now. For the most part I have enjoyed working and have only had a couple of unhappy situations which I did not stay in for long.
Last year I was self-employed and in spite of the economic downturn, I had the best year since setting up, four years previously. Then the winter came early and I was snowed in at the end of November and most of December. I had a couple of contracts which were my bread and butter but the icing came from personal work that I did on a one-to-one basis. These clients disappeared with the snow, as the cuts began to feel more real to people.
It was a double-whammy for me, as the contract work involved travelling while the other work had been closer to home. As the price of petrol rose I began to realise that my situation was becoming untenable and so decided that I need to find work closer to home. Where I live the jobs on offer are retail, hospitality or social care for the most part. I had already been doing a few hours, most weeks, working in a Camphill community for people with learning disabilities, so reckoned my best chance was with social care work.
I did the sums and realised that, by working locally, even though the hourly rate was not good that I could pay my bills and lose the stress of being on the road so much. I decided to have a go.
I have now been doing the job for just over two months and have learned so much. Much of it good but also much that troubles me.
The company I work for provided induction training, allowed me to shadow for a couple of days and then set me off on my own, providing personal care to people in their own home. Since then I have had support and supervision, and I always have access to a member of staff whatever time of day or night that I work, in case I am unsure of anything. This company appears to have a good reputation in an industry that is often pilloried, but it is a private company. Increasingly the local authority provision in this area is disappearing but local authorities did not always have a good reputation in any case.
When it comes to pay, I learned a lesson very quickly. Based on the experience I had, I presumed that when I had been given time to travel between jobs I would be paid for that time. I was wrong. You are paid for the time you are in a client’s house. This means that I can be out at night for up to five hours and receive as little as three hours, sometimes less, pay.
This is the industry norm and the company needs to do this if it is to compete.
I am not mad at the company, instead the society in which I live, which allows this to happen.
Of course, it is women doing this job. Women who need to be out at work for a lot of hours in order to be able to take home enough money to pay the bills. These are women who are often already economically disadvantaged and guess what, when they get home the caring does not stop then. Some of these women that I work with are constantly tired, worn out from the work they do to earn money and the work that they do caring at home.
It’s great that we have had the Davies report telling us that women who are economically advantaged are not getting to board level and proposing ways of overcoming that. What about the women that I work with though? Who is speaking up for them? What about the dreadful expose of what has been happening in care homes recently? What will happen to the people involved? Of course they must be dealt with appropriately but will those in authority who should have been upholding standards, providing adequate levels of supervision and training, will they too be dealt with appropriately?
We are not valuing the people, women, who are doing this work. We are quite happy for them (me, us) to look after elderly parents, often doing what lots of people would see as menial work, and yet they are paid inadequately. In my experience, most of them are caring, gentle and supportive of the elderly people they work with. I have heard one old person tell her grand-daughter that she had ‘one of her dear carers’ with her.
The people who care are only one side of the equation though. The people who are cared for are not valued in our society either. We know this yet we are astonished when we get another dreadful story appearing in the press. I have had experience of two uncles in care homes. The first received care that was less than adequate and necessitated a regular flow of relatives and friends to ensure that his care remained at an acceptable standard. The second received better care but there was still a lot of behaviour in the home that was less than respectful.
The people that I come into contact with, have very different experiences within their own homes. Some live with relatives who are able to pay for some additional help and have a very comfortable life. Others live in their own homes with only a few friends and family around and rely heavily on the carers who visit each day. Some live in situations which frankly border on the unacceptable but choose to live that way, in spite of what their sons and daughters might wish for them. I have seen the pain in the face on a women who had to be called out to her mother, because she had fallen in the night. I could see what she was thinking; this was not what she wanted for her mother but she could not overturn her wishes, to be in her own home. Many are lonely and do not want to be on their own but fear living in a care home.
We are dealing with people, often with complex needs, therefore there is not an easy solution to this. We are not dealing with this in any kind of coherent way. And women are in the majority of those cared for, as well as being the carers. We know that the number of older people is growing and we are going to need more social care workers to support the more vulnerable members of our society.
I would like us to recognise the value and worth of all women in the workplace and recognise that more needs to be done, not just at board level, to achieve this.