In June 2012 I wrote this over on the old blog space – not just a care assistant
It may not have been one of the most grammatically correct or coherent pieces of writing I’ve ever written. However it was written from the heart and born from a genuine sadness that I was feeling for the lack of value and worth I was hearing all around me, about people who work as Care Assistants, in nursing and residential homes. Including from those people who work in those roles themselves.
Because being a Care Assistant in the eyes of many is not worth very much. And in the eyes of the people who set the pay scales it would appear it does not mean very much either. A Care Assistant is lucky if they earn any more than the basic minimum wage. I know they don’t in the area I live and work in.
Which is why I wrote the above blog. To express to anyone feeling that they might ‘just be a carer’ that they were/are not ‘just’ anything. That they work and do one of the most valuable jobs that is going. They care. For the vulnerable, the sick, the elderly, the dying. How can that not be worth anything?
As you may have worked out, my name is Helen, and I have an NVQ Level 3 in Childcare and an NVQ Level 3 in General Health and Social Care. Just under a year ago I left working for the private care for profit nursing/residential home business to work for a charity, still supporting people but in a different field. I have spent the last 11 years out of 13 working within the ‘care’ industry in some shape or form.
Obviously I am not considered an expert. In fact, mostly I am not considered as someone with an opinion worth listening to at all in this area.
What I do consider myself as, however, is someone who is passionate about other people, especially the vulnerable and protecting their rights. In this case, the rights of people in homes to be cared for well and compassionately.
The thing is, there is a problem. A big problem.
You simply cannot recruit and retain staff on the wages that the private nursing/residential care home industry offer. In my area, Care Assistants are lucky to earn above the National Min Wage, currently set at 6.31 p/hour and Seniors being offered just a few pennies more. Even the most competent, compassionate and dedicated of staff and those who feel its a ‘vocation’ cannot be recruited and retained on such low wages.
Which leads me to why I started writing this evening.
Last night I was offered a job. Over casual conversation and although it was easy to brush it over, it was clear that the offer was serious, and would be something I could take up/seriously look into taking if I wanted to.
The job was to be a Senior Carer, for a 40/42 bed residential home. Having worked a similar job previously for quite a few years, I didn’t need to really ask much on the details of what the actual job would entail. What I did need to ask, however was ‘how much do you pay?’.
(There are some people who go along the train of thought that ‘money isn’t important’ and that if its a ‘vocation’ then you don’t do it for the love of money. For sure. You definitely do not work in this sector for the money. BUT in this day and age, when the economic situation is as tough as it is, and the prices of everything is rising constantly, it IS important. Money and what you can earn IS important. For me, as a single person, bringing in one wage only, what I earn IS important. I have to be able to earn enough to money to pay rent, bills, phone, car, food, and live (I was only able to afford to manage before on a min wage job by getting into a lot of debt, and then having to give up my flat and house share). )
Anyway, so I asked ‘how much do you pay’.
The reply – £6.80 per hour.
For that £6.80 per hour, as a Senior Care Assistant of a residential home you are expected to be in charge of the building and everything in it, including the 40 or so residents, ALL the staff incl carers, domestics, cleaners, maintenance and so on … So the list of what you are expected to do in given day is not exhaustive and could go on forever. It includes:
- responsible for any emergencies that may occur, be it with a resident’s health, staff, or general such as fire alarms etc
- being responsible for the general health and safety of the building, the residents and staff.
- taking the lead/run ‘the shift’ from start to end
- making sure the shift is staffed, if not covering shifts if people have called in sick
- being responsible for the ‘medication rounds’ which generally are twice during each day time shift and involves administering medications to all residents who require them following strict policies and procedures ensuring everyone gets the corrects medications, at the correct times, in the correct way and so on …
- being responsible for organising appointments for residents/ensuring they attend etc
- ensuring Dr’s are called when required or other interventions as necessary.
- ensuring daily paper work including daily notes for each residents are completed and up to date
- ensuring all personal care plans for residents are up to date, and being adhered to
- ensuring staff are following correct policies and procedures, and providing the best possible care
- being responsible for staff’s health and well being
- liaising with management about issues that occur
- being expected to ‘work the floor’ and be caring as a care assistant when and if there is time
- liaising with and dealing with families at any given time
- answering the phone/doors and dealing with whatever that call etc may need at any given time.
- trouble shooting any issues that may arise at any given time during any given day
- being responsible for and having to monthly audits of paperwork
- being responsible for monthly orders of medications, chasing them up, checking them in, signing them/in/out and so on
- at times, assessing people to come in to the home
- at times assessing people and helping them to settle in when they arrive at the home, in order for care plans to be devised, and for staff to know about the person and how best to care for them …
- arriving early to catch up on what needs doing and going home 4 hours late because something cropped up
- turning in on your day off to cover a shift/catch up/work extra to get on top of jobs not done the day before
- dealing with other outside agencies such as social workers/district nurses et al
Are you getting a good picture? As I said, the list is endless. It cannot be exhausted. I could sit and write all night about the various jobs I have had to do in the past as a Senior Care Assistant, for £6.80 (although I actually got paid £6.60 two years ago as a Senior). There are no ‘benefits’. There is no ‘sick pay’ (except for SSP). There is no Christmas bonus (in fact the company I worked for changed hands and we went from a bottle of wine to nothing, not even a christmas card to the home). There is no annual pay rise (unless the min wage increases). There is no pension. No healthcare.
So, I’m considered unqualified, I’m considered a lowly carer by many, without an opinion.
But yet I am capable of doing all of those roles and jobs above, and much more. And I did. Senior Carers do.
When you need your loved one looking after, because they are not safe and cannot cope at home any more, it will be me or my colleagues who earn between £6.31 and £6.80 per hour, looking after them. And you.
I listened to the Stephen Nolan show, on 5 Live a few weeks ago, in which Charlie Woolf and Andrew Graystone were discussing worth and wage. Charlie Woolf was very adamant that wage equalled worth, and that if you were earning the minimum wage it was because you were not ‘worth’ any more.
I cannot express how angry I was hearing this. And how much I beg to differ.
Being a care assistant/Senior Carer and working within this industry, providing care to some of the most vulnerable in society is a job that is worthy and IS worth so so much more that it currently gets/is seen as.
It is worth being recognised as a job that is kind, compassion, love. It is worth being recognised as a job not everyone can and would roll their sleeves up and do. It is a job worth being paid a decent wage, so people who do these roles can earn enough to live comfortably without having to work 60/70 hour weeks, or have two jobs, or rely on credit cards.
Despite what you read and hear on the news and the odd TV programme that turns up to highlight poor practice, the vast majority of staff I have had the privilege of working with and alongside have been the most beautifully dedicated, committed, kind, loving, compassionate and caring people you could meet. And devoted. Devoted to those they are caring for, be the elderly, the dying, the sick or people with different needs such as people with Learning Disabilities.
And worth so much more than what society currently thinks of them.
Worth so much more than what their pay currently reflects.
Somewhere along the line, in the future, there needs to be change. Staff, good staff, are leaving in droves and people wonder why the private care home industry is starting to/has started to fall to pieces …
I truly admire and respect people who work as Care Assistants/Seniors within the system for so little.
They are worth much more than is ever realised.