If you’ve caught my previous two posts on this theme, this’ll be the last – for now.
For several years, my daughter was a carer, initially seeing people in their homes, before working in residential care. She didn’t live with me but, when she stayed over for a few weeks, I got an insight into a carer’s working day.
As far as care at home is concerned, there are four key times:
- First thing in the morning – getting out of bed/ breakfast
For a carer putting in a full day, it’s very fragmented. My daughter was usually out of the house before 6am to start helping people get up and make them breakfasts. She’d arrive back between 9:30am and 10am, giving her no more than two hours before going out again for ‘lunches’. Home by 2:30pm, she’d be out before 4pm for ‘teas’. Depending on her rota, she might have an hour or so gap before ‘beds’.
How’s that for a working day?
She was about twenty then, so her personal responsibilities were limited but, if you’ve got a family and/or a house to run, those intervals don’t allow you to get much done.
More regular hours are available working in a care home, where your working day is made up of a single block rather than several shorter ones. As an added bonus, you don’t have to travel from one call to another (very relevant if you only get paid for time with the client).
With both options, pay is low – generally the national minimum wage. If you’re twenty-three or older, that’s currently £8.91 an hour. For a 40 hour week, that’s equivalent to an annual salary of just over £18500. According to the Office for National Statistics, national average earnings are £31772 per annum. What that means is a full-time carer earns less than 60% of the average. What does that say about how much we (society) value both the carer and the caree?
The majority of carers are people who want to do the best possible job. But, when you’re paying peanuts, it’s only natural that there’ll be instances where the commitment is less than it could be.
That doesn’t mean to say employers are exploiting the workers. The reality is that the care homes and agencies providing in-home care are funded largely by the NHS and local councils. Most individuals aren’t meeting the full cost of care from their income. A small minority have all of it paid for them, but the majority either pay a proportion from their income and/or capital, or will see a chunk of the value of their homes disappear when they’re sold to pay for the care. Either way, the authorities are paying at least a proportion of the bill in most cases. As the biggest funder of these services, they’re also in a position to dictate what’s paid for them. And it’s not a lot. Which is why, by the time overheads have been covered, pay for an individual carer is only the bare minimum.
How valuable is the work the carer does? I’d argue more valuable than that of Harry Kane, captain of the England football team, whose annual salary at Spurs is reported to be over £10m. Sadly, that’s economics. Kane won’t be able to make sure your grandma takes her meds, or clean her up after she’s soiled herself, but he can score goals – and that sells tickets. Not that you’d want to sell tickets to your grandma being cleaned up after she’s soiled herself …
Incidentally, I’m not picking on Kane or the (apparently) beautiful game. There are plenty of similar examples out there.
Do I have a comprehensive solution? No. But the current approach clearly isn’t working – and nor will the changes proposed in the recent government White Paper. Much of the emphasis of any debate seems to be on saving our homes rather than the impact of care on our well-being. If we’re happy to receive second rate care, then we can carry on as we are. Otherwise, we need to stop feeling so attached to our assets.
This isn’t the sole answer. Some people don’t have assets in the first place. But it’s somewhere to start. Because, regardless of your political persuasion, the money isn’t there in the coffers to pay for decent care – or to retain decent carers.
My daughter, incidentally, loved her work. I remember being astounded when my little girl (by then aged 22) told me about her responsibilities, which included administering drugs to residents on end of life care. Her desire to help was clear. But she’d also reached a point where she realised that, to afford to buy a house, she’d need to get a job with better pay. So she’s now a nurse, and I’m proud of her for sticking with a caring profession. She earns more than she did, but it’s still not the national average.
It seems that, at any level, society isn’t placing enough value on care.