TUC Young Workers Month: A Care Worker’s Story
There’s a famous quote attributed to Confucius that says ‘choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.’ Working in the care sector is like that; it’s a job where you have to love it or else you get found out very quickly.
However, working through a pandemic has brought a different side to care than I’d ever known. Most days used to be filled with laughter and joy and conversations about the wildest things. Only now, we’re doing that through a mask and a confused face looking at us. Corridors are emptier without residents and their families and have been replaced with PPE which is often outside doors of rooms making it easy to grab when going in.
The mental health of staff is being strained more than ever before, watching our residents who’ve been with us for months dying before our eyes and knowing that there’s nothing we can do to help them in their last moments. The “no touching” rule goes out of the window when a resident who’s been there for years is in their final minutes. Nothing will ever prepare you for the first death in a care home, and they never get easier no longer how long you’ve worked there.
The mental health of our residents is also tested. We understand the stress that it causes when relatives can’t see their loved ones and we know that they are missing you. However, because of the trauma that we went through with dealing with Covid-19, we need to know that it’s safe for everyone involved.
The government have been saying for some time that there’s a success in care homes because they only make up a quarter of the figures, which is an insult. Tens of thousands of deaths have happened due to the incompetence of the Government. In my opinion, elderly people or very sick people don’t tend to develop “Herd Immunity” – they tend to become very unwell. Boris Johnson should know that after his short hospitalisation and his miraculous recovery! For the current government to claim that they’ve ‘thrown a protective ring around care homes’ is a disgrace, the only thing they’ve thrown a ring around is the pay! £8.72 to do our jobs, we know that we deserve more. But we also know that the fight is much bigger than that.
At TUC Conference a few years ago, I spoke about the sick pay that carers get and the working conditions. Now the Covid-19 crisis has just highlighted how much carers do need sick pay, on average a care worker can lose £218 a week (if working on a 36hour contract at £8.72ph – minimum wage for ‘low skilled workers’ like Matt Hancock refers to us as). Over a 2-week isolation period that’s £437, which is sometimes the difference between heating and food on the table or paying rent. Covid-19 won’t just affect those over 70; it can affect everyone and in different ways. The only way to ensure that people are taking this seriously and are isolating when they have come into contact with Covid-19 positive cases or are Covid-19 positive themselves if to make sure that they are paid accordingly, so that it doesn’t cause further issues down the line.
Care is more than making cups of tea and wiping bottoms; it’s about the relationships that you have with the residents and their relatives. It’s knowing how to cheer someone up with a funny face, and knowing that you’re making someone have a better day just by being there.
I never wanted to work in the care industry when I was younger; however now I’m in the industry I don’t want to work anywhere else. There’s something proud about working in the care industry, and I know that the people I work with feel the same.
Next time you’re thinking of low skilled workers, please don’t think of us. We’ve got more skills in our back pockets than you’d know.
Ruth Pritchard is a young care-worker and the GMB Young Workers Chair. You can read her article about the importance of young people joining Trade Union here.