What I learnt during my time as a carer
Just like so many individuals, working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic made me re-evaluate my work situation. Do I enjoy my role? Do I find it rewarding? These were questions that I had sometimes considered pre-COVID. But the removal of in-person colleague interaction, which I realised had kept me going, made me acutely aware that I really needed a change.
I’ve always had an interest in anything health related and had envisioned going into a healthcare related role but had never thought of it seriously, until now. Following conversations with friends working in healthcare, who rightly questioned why I thought now was the right time, I quit my stable well-paid job. I started working as a domiciliary carer with a private care agency, to get an insight into what was involved in the industry. I learnt a lot in that time.
Training is minimal – I shadowed a few home calls and was then thrown in at the deep end. As a result, there is the risk of injury to both the carer and the client, with one colleague telling me off for bending over too much. The agency did not schedule enough time for quality care to be provided, with carers rushing between clients to meet their scheduled timetable.
Like so many others working in domiciliary care, I was on a zero-hour contract, being paid minimum wage, had zero benefits, and paying for my own travel costs between clients. To add insult to injury, I was underpaid by the agency, who weren’t tech savvy and still operated with paper timesheets and argued I hadn’t provided them. I was exhausted and frustrated by what I witnessed.
My experience during the pandemic has highlighted to me the vital work that carers perform, in both our health and care systems. Millions of workers risk their lives to look after the most vulnerable. Sadly, these individuals are under enormous pressure to make ends meet and are not given the acknowledgment or appreciation they deserve, particularly when so many of their colleagues are off sick and they are left to pick up the pieces. We cannot provide better care for the elderly or vulnerable, if we don’t care for our carers.
Shortly after becoming Prime Minister in 2019, Boris Johnson declared that “we will fix the crisis in social care once and for all, and with a clear plan we have prepared to give every older person the dignity and security they deserve”. However, the Government is currently spending less on social care than it did a decade ago. With an ageing population and a fragmented system of private providers – many of whom do not look after their staff or train them adequately, the future doesn’t look promising.
The pandemic has highlighted a serious shortfall in care planning. A change to the system is needed now – with a cohesive government policy desperately required to meet the needs of the ageing population and ensure high-quality, person-centred care. Care work needs to be recognised as a profession, ensuring employees are properly recompensed and trained, with private bodies more closely regulated and controlled with strict guidelines.
Sadly, I learnt first-hand what I’d been reading in the news all along. The in-person reality is even more shocking. We need to ensure the high-quality care of the vulnerable but also of the carers. The two are inextricably linked. Clearly, as much as we’ve been hearing about the care industry during the pandemic, those campaigning in this space have a lot more work to do.
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