Karolina Gerlich, CEO , The Care Workers’ Charity
When we think about living a good life in the social care sector our minds automatically think of making sure that those who draw on social care live well (which is particularly important) but those who are often forgotten are those providing the care. Our care workforce. A workforce full of caring, nurturing people who should be seen as human beings, equally deserving of living a good life.
Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others is something we hear every time we fly during safety demonstrations, but this is a life lesson too, which so many people DON’T do!
For empathic people such as care workers’ it is such an alien concept. Like a mother with her children most could not imagine sorting themselves first, but it is a mistake so many make. Giving until there is nothing left to give is something we often see and hear from care teams, and it is something we really need to stop.
When Abraham Maslow created his Hierarchy of Needs, he argued that humans have five essential needs: physiological, safety, social, self-esteem and self-actualisation (also known as self-fulfilment). At the bottom of the pyramid are our physiological needs, such as food, water, sleep, and warmth. Without those needs being met it is very difficult if not impossible to meet the others. Care workers in their roles are responsible for supporting others in meeting their needs at all levels not (regardless of what the government funds or the public thinks) just the basic needs.
What the care worker grant applications to our charity show is that care workers themselves struggle greatly at the moment in meeting their very basic needs let alone self-actualising.
According to an analysis by the Health Foundation, over a quarter of the UK’s residential care workers lived in, or were on the brink of, poverty from 2017 – 2020. Considering that the Covid-19 pandemic did not hit until March 2020 this shows that coronavirus is not to blame for these results and care workers suffered long before the current cost-of-living crisis began.
Analysis by the Kings’ Fund showed that 50% of social care workers will earn within 30p of the national minimum wage – but 9 in 10 supermarkets were paying more than this in June 2022.
Simon Bottery at Kings’ Fund said – “For social care, the minimum rate for staff over the age of 23 in June 2022 was £9.50 – the statutory minimum set by the national living wage. It has been estimated that around 50 per cent of care workers (which would equate to 395,000 of the 790,000) earn within 30 pence of the national living wage level. Unfortunately for social care, and the people it serves, in June 2022 nine of the 10 largest supermarkets were paying more than this.”
No one is disputing that supermarket staff are essential and should be paid well but the level of responsibility is far higher for care workers’ who support people with personal care, manage medications, and build knowledge and understanding about various conditions such as dementia, Huntington’s disease, and Parkinson’s, support with nutrition, exercise, and oral health as well as building trust and a good rapport with those who draw on their care AND their families.
We believe that care workers MUST be seen as professionals and paid as such for the social care workforce to survive.
Even empathetic, caring, people who do what they do for the good of society have limits. Once someone reaches the empty stage it can affect mentally, physically, and indirectly affect everyone around them too for once you are unhappy, unwell, and exhausted you can no longer be the provider, protector, and supporter. While others are managing to pay their bills and feed their children without the worry of getting to the end of the month, going on holiday, enjoying a gym membership without getting into debt, or simply allowing their children to have a treat without having to skip a meal to pay for it – these are just some of the things that will send good, genuine, experienced care workers’ off to a Tesco checkout or a Morrisons’ shelf replenishment position.
Care workers’ must be supported to have a good life. Out of work they have their own families, friends, troubles, worries and ambitions and should be able to afford basics and holidays and treats not just “scraping by” and “making ends meet”. Care workers support people and are people themselves. We need to support them as whole individuals not just perceive them as tools designed to deliver care and to be discarded once they delivered what they are needed for. We need care workers to be well paid, have all of their needs met, have hobbies, afford nice holidays and self-actualise if we want them to deliver outstanding care to everybody but mostly because they deserve it as fellow human beings.