Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/1008/27907
A day in the life of a carer: "I am having trouble feeding my children on my wages"
A domiciliary carer
As I go to bed, I look at my rota. It says I have a 7am start time. Taking this for granted, I set my alarm for 5.30am.
I get a text at 10.43pm saying my rota has changed and I am starting half an hour earlier. I don't read the text until I wake up and, consequently, I have half the time to sort myself out this morning.
Luckily, I've prepared a packed lunch the night before using the kids' dinner leftovers. I shower, get dressed, take my meds and, after calming my three-year-old down because he doesn't like me going to work, I don't have time for breakfast and have no money to buy it anyway.
My first call is to a former medical professional who is now severely disabled. On arrival, I discover that, despite the continence underwear and special bedsheet, they are lying in soaking wet bedclothes. My colleague arrives as the call requires two of us.
We strip the client down and hoist them onto the commode chair so that we can wash them effectively. Having given them a few minutes to open their bowels, one of us has to clean up the commode and wipe the client's bottom.
While one of us gives them a shower, the other strips the bed and replaces the bedding. Then it's time to dry and dress the client. Using the hoist again, they are taken to the bed and then helped onto the wheelchair.
Already the sweat is running off of us. Despite the heatwave, some clients still have their central heating switched onto maximum.
Some do not open windows either. This is one such client. I leave the house once they are comfortable in the lounge with breakfast and drinks.
My second visit is a single person call and is pretty much the same but without the hoist. This person can shift from chair to chair but has little mobility.
They are also elderly and showing signs of dementia. Many have no family locally. For some clients, carers may be the only person they see all day long.
They have little interaction with the outside world and most are grateful for the time you give them.
Some people are resistant to needing care and struggle to accept they are no longer capable. These people can be especially difficult to help. Sometimes you get verbal abuse, sometimes physical resistance.
Often you get all the unsavoury tasks without the more joyful ones. You get to change incontinence pads and soiled pants.
You get to wash soiled hoist slings and change soiled beds. You get pooed on and spat on, but you don't get to go to the birthday parties, so to speak.
Calls often include toileting, hoisting, dressing, washing, domestic duties, meeting with nurses, applying creams, handing out medication, keeping very stringent records, carrying out constant risk assessments, and much more.
Days are mentally draining. I have walked in to find people having strokes in the lounge, having fallen out of bed and bumped their heads and unable to get up. Twice, I have walked in and found someone had died in their sleep.
Once, someone had died on the floor. This is distressing and it never gets easier. There is no real psychological support or training for carers who witness the horrors of strokes, heart attacks and dead bodies.
We may be the only person in the house. We have to press a call button and, if the client can afford to subscribe to the call service, explain everything through a little wall-mounted speaker box. Then there's the wait for paramedics.
With the NHS as cash starved as it is, sometimes you wait a good while for help - all the time feeling guilty about being late to everybody else on your call sheet, as well as dealing with the upsetting situation that has unfolded in front of you.
For all this, most care companies pay £8 to £10 an hour. Often, having a higher rate on paper can actually mean you take home a smaller wage.
This is because the higher hourly rate is only available if you accept a zero-hour contract. Take the company I work for as an example.
I am contracted from 7am until 2pm, but this changes at the drop of a hat, as described. Most days I work until 2.30pm anyway.
My contract stipulates £8 an hour. If I accepted a zero-hour contract I would be eligible for up to £11 an hour.
But these contracts mean you're not always called into work, which means no money. It also means no holiday pay, sick pay, or guarantee of being able to pay some of your bills and feed your family.
In terms of turnover, like nursing, this sector has workers who see this as a vocation. Fewer see this work as a career.
Nonetheless, lots of agencies are advertising constantly because many leave the sector after a couple of years through injury or because of mental stress.
There is only so much neglect or trauma that one person can witness before it becomes demoralising and depression sets in.
I will not be in this sector long because I am having trouble feeding my children on these wages.
I have had to use foodbanks and I am working full time! It's horrendously shameful that I am working full time and cannot afford to live.
I worry if my car breaks down I will not have enough money to repair it and then I will be unable to work.
The care sector, like the NHS, is hugely undervalued and workers are not paid in line with the duties they have to perform.
It doesn't have to be like this and it must change. Care workers have taken strike action such as Care UK workers and recently workers in Birmingham, for better pay and working conditions. This gives me confidence.
The whole care 'industry' must be brought into public ownership, fully funded, and run under the democratic control and management of workers, service users and the wider community.
The Socialist Party says:
- Reverse all council cuts and sell-offs and bring services back in-house
- Commit to new central funding for social care and council services
- A £10 an hour minimum wage without exemptions as a step towards a real living wage and scrap zero-hour contracts
- Proper enhanced pay rates for care workers on nights and other unsociable hours
- Care companies who fail to pay these rates to have their contracts stopped immediately, with all work and staff transferring to the local authority
- Nationalise the banks and top corporations under democratic control - with compensation paid to shareholders only on the basis of proven need - to pay for these and other measures
In The Socialist 5 September 2018:
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