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A care worker in the South West

Five years ago, I wrote for the Socialist explaining what it was like working in care, the limited time we had to get people washed, dressed, and to help them eat and drink.

It is now 2022 and, writing again, I would love to say that things have got easier, but I can’t. That would be lying. I know what I’m about to tell you isn’t unique to my workplace, or the difficulties created by the times we are in (although they would love to blame everything on Covid). It could be, and is, repeated every day in every care home in the country, and that just makes it more worrying.

The home I work in is part of a big company. We have some of the most vulnerable people in our care, all of whom are coming to the end of their lives. They need help with everything, are often scared, lonely and sometimes in pain. But because of inadequate staffing levels they will spend a lot of time on their own, waiting for things we all take for granted: food, drinks, a human voice telling them they are not on their own, or even just a hand to hold.

It’s a typical weekday evening. It’s 8pm, and my colleague and I should be going home but we can’t, as we have paperwork to finish. On our unit of 22 residents there have been just three of us on shift – two carers and one nurse. It’s been that way since 3pm.

We have to put our residents first, so we’ve sorted out supper, then assisted all 22 residents with their incontinence needs, made them comfortable in bed and apologised to them for not being able to have a chat. In the back of my head I’m thinking: “Please don’t ask for another drink as I still have 12 people to check and its 7.30pm already”.

It gets to 9pm and I can finally go home having been in the building since 8am. My colleague and I are tired, hungry and angry. I work in care because I care and it is a job I love. But a lot of the time it feels like I’m working on a production line just going from one person to the next, to the next.

The culture coming from above seems to be that the residents we look after are not people at all, but rather bodies in a bed who provide a way of making the shareholders their dividends.

If you watch the news, read the papers, or listen to the radio, you will hear time and time again government minsters blaming the crisis in care on Covid. And yes, it hasn’t helped. But the crisis in care has been happening for years as privatisation has run rampant. Covid has brought it to the surface, but the care crisis is really about people at the top not caring and, once again, putting profit before residents’ needs.

  • Two-thirds of care homes have stopped or limited new admissions, unable to staff services
  • 44% of those leaving employment in social care are seeking better pay elsewhere, according to the National Care Forum
  • 55% of domiciliary care workers are on a zero-hour contract, according to charity Skills for Care

Care costs and bosses’ pay

Privatised care bosses are worried. The costs of running a care home is set to rise by around 30% as food and energy prices soar, and worker shortages hit.

The chief executive of one care chain, Barchester Healthcare, received a £250,000 pay rise last year, taking his pay packet to £2.27 million, according to the Financial Times.

I think we can see where that boss chose to spend some of the £12.6 million of Covid grants the firm received during the pandemic!

But who is going to pay for the increased costs? Not the millionaire bosses, but the residents. The company plans to raise fees by over 7%.

Staff agencies’ exploitation

Other capitalist vultures circle. They won’t let the opportunity for profiteering pass by. With 18% of social care vacancies unfilled, care agencies charge providers up to £60 an hour to supply agency nurses – not that the workers themselves see anything near that amount. 71% of care workers are paid below the real living wage.

Solve the staff shortage crisis

  • An immediate 15% pay rise or £15 an hour wage, whichever is higher, for all social care workers including apprentices
  • Full pay for overnight stays and travel time, including expenses
  • A maximum 32-hour week, without loss of pay
  • Free childcare for all
  • Free comprehensive training for all those who need it
  • Trade union recognition in all social care employers

End profiteering

  • Open the books. Let the residents, their families and the workers’ trade unions see where the extortionate fees really go
  • Reverse privatisation. Nationalise care service providers, with compensation to small shareholders only on the basis of proven need
  • For publicly owned care services to be run democratically by elected bodies of service users and their families, care workers and the community

High quality care for all

  • Scrap unfair ‘client contributions’ for services
  • End council cuts, re-open closed services – for councils to set budgets based on need
  • For democratic workers’ and community control of care needs assessments
  • Free social care for all those who need it