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By Debbie le Quesne

Good Care Week: Pay and career structure key to changing image

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At the start of Good Care Week, I read in a national newspaper publication that the status of carers is “about where nursing was pre-Florence Nightingale: in a job that very few would choose above all other occupations.”

When Observer writer Katharine Whitehorn penned those words it was not meant as a derogatory comment, but an observation of the standard how many people view care work.

As we try to negotiate fees with local authorities there are two hurdles to overcome. One, central government sees fit not to decant funding to their local counterparts as it clearly is for them an investment not worth making; and two, carers’ jobs have no real status in their eyes. How wrong they are!

Carers come in all shapes and sizes, and as more and more of us fail to die to order. Some are not well educated, others do not have English as a first language and most would have never considered the work they do as a proper career.

Truth is, there’s so much of the care sector that does not even offer career structure and advancement for carers – yes, they might achieve senior status, but what after that?

But there’s another truth: The demand for them is going to increase.

Whitehorn writes: “Some carers are little short of saints, but because a lot of caring is inevitably done by family members, it’s assumed anyone can do it, and too many are simply doing it because it’s the only job going, with no sense of vocation, precious little pay, and too often expected to fit half an hour’s care into 20 minutes.”

I have a colleague with whom I work regularly and he has cared for his ailing wife for some 25 years. She has MS and he runs a media business – an amazing juggling act. He often confesses: “I’m monumentally useless at hands-on caring,” adding that “the care team do an invaluable job, we could not survive without them.”

He clearly comprehends their worth as “invaluable.”

Why is it that very few would choose care above all other occupations? Because it’s hard work and massively undervalued. And that value is driven down and down and down by the policy of successive governements not to recognise care worth.

I understand the Skills Academy for Social is recruiting graduates to be fast-tracked into management. It’s a good move which shows vision.

But but caring, like every part of the operating structure around it, needs a massive overhaul. Well-educated outsiders are not the complete ‘fix’. So what is? Primarily, as Whitehorn says: “. . . a real career structure and proper recognition in terms of pay.”

I know a whole raft of care industry operators who would dearly like to pay their staff more, but the margins are impossible.

The association is encouraging involvement in Good Care Week from residential and nursing homes, domiciliary operations and specialist care services.

Please join with us. Like our Facebook page and visit our new website. Post on our FB page just how good you are; tell the world you are worth more than money can buy, but you need it to support families and pay bills just like the rest of us; write to your local MP about Good Care Week to help them raise the status of social care in Parliament; and don’t be silenced.

Interestingly, care services minister Norman Lamb told a conference, organised by care sector analysts Laing & Buisson, that he wanted senior managers and directors of care providers to be held to account, particularly in the home care market where abuse of vulnerable people could be hidden.

Lamb disclosed that he had written to ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, urging them to “name and shame” care providers paying workers less than the national minimum wage.

The Low Pay Commission has reported a sharp rise in the number of home care workers being paid below the minimum. It estimates that one in 40 workers is being paid below the legal threshold, rising to at least one in 10 if allowance is made for unpaid travelling time between jobs.

News like this destroys public confidence and undermines the priceless worth of the many unsung heroes and and heroines who care for society’s most vulnerable.

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