Home care workers are worth more
When you are someone who needs home care you don’t always see what’s going on at the agency and behind the scenes. All you see is late staff, never the same people, people who leave almost as soon as they arrive and seem rushed when they are with you. You wonder why you are paying so much for such poor care. Being a carer isn’t easy, there are many things that can stop you delivering the best possible care.
We want to understand why this is happening and do things differently to benefit carers and those seeking care.
The role of a carer.
If you need help around the home, a good option is to have a care assistant come into your home to help you. They help with personal care like washing or dressing, assist with general housekeeping, cooking or preparing meals or offer companionship over a cup of tea. They tackle loneliness, help those with depression and mental illness, they keep families and ageing love birds together. They share our jokes, laughter and tears along the way.
Are we losing good carers over poor pay and working conditions?
The average Homecare agency charges £18 per hour but pay rates for the carers are usually around £7-8 per hour. Work is not a full day at that rate; often it is just a few hours of paid work with travel in between as one carer put it, “I can’t fly there like peter Pan”. This means they are busy all day but rarely paid for a full day’s work. Understandably many carers struggle financially, some even say they barely break even or end up out of pocket. Most carers stay much longer than they are paid because they realise it’s not possible to do everything quickly, they don’t want their visits to feel rushed and they feel it’s not right to leave people who still need them. “You just can’t leave them” is the mantra of every good carer.
Are homecare workers undervalued, even mis-treated?
Every day 900 social care workers leave their jobs in England. We’ve spoken to hundreds of carer’s on our journey and we kept hearing the same story … “the agency know I’ll do it because of my personal bond with the clients”. Often carers begin this job because they are the kind of person who wants to support others, this can end up being exploited by agencies who know they will go that extra mile without being paid for it. We were told “one agency called me on a Saturday night at 9pm and said if I didn’t go to help a gentleman who I’d been working with get out of bed at 6am the next day he would be stuck there until his lunchtime visit. I couldn’t do that to him, he was my friend, but I had my kids with me all day. I felt they manipulated me, knowing how much I cared about him, knowing I wouldn’t say no.” Other carers have told us they suffered out of pocket expenses as part of their work, leaving them in financial trouble; “The mix ups with communications, last minute rota changes with no explanation, the fact my car was hit while on shift and nobody was bothered and I had to foot the bill. When you take into account not being paid adequately for travel time it does not equal a full time living wage. I go out of my way, albeit in my own time, to make sure my clients have newspapers, fresh milk or even feeding their beloved wild garden birds! I don’t always feel valued by my employer, but to me, being valued by my service users is more important”.
Demoralised staff, resulting in a poor level of care.
All too often agency practices mean demoralised staff which often leads to poor standards of care. Carers are forced to leave jobs with people they enjoy working with because the other staff and the agency are making it too hard to stay. We spoke with a former home carer within the Leeds area; “Sometimes we had so much work to fit into a day that we never got a break. The problems occurred when the clients were not getting the best care. The one client that I really enjoyed working with was very upset and complained to the office and nothing was done about the situation for several months which lead me to be upset and I ended up leaving”.
Both the carer and the person she was caring for lost out because of the pay and conditions at the agency.
Let’s champion the rights of care seeker’s by giving care worker’s good working conditions.
The best way to look after our loved ones is to make sure there is someone to look after them, and us when the time comes. To do this we must reverse the low wages and poor working conditions that have driven away many great carers from work they otherwise enjoyed. Their love for their clients marks them out as special people and we can’t use this to keep them on the minimum wage. It might be seen by some as “unskilled” work but their value is not just about the roles they perform. They are the front line of healthcare, picking up the early signs of deteriorating health and helping to reduce hospital admissions through their work and commitment to our loved ones. They are there at the other end as well to welcome those in hospital back into their home as quickly as possible. Ask anyone who works in the NHS how important that is.
Is there a better way?
Many people pay friends or neighbours to avoid the high costs often associated with agencies. Look in shop windows, on notice boards in stores throughout the city and you’ll often see ads for those needing care. People just cannot afford agency care or are unhappy with their practices. My personal experience of dealing with agencies are very similar to many who source home carers via an agency. They would send 3 different carers a day, that’s not ideal as we had to explain how dad liked things done 3 times a day and sometimes start over the next day. Also, dad got on better with some than others. We wanted to choose our carers and have more control over who came into our house.
It led me to set up CareBIG. Firstly CareBIG is not a care agency, it is an online platform where self-employed carers and those looking for home care can meet. Caregivers organise their schedule which means no last minute mix ups or shift changes. It means cheaper care costs for families but also a minimum of £10 per hour for carers. We find and choose carers by screening all applicants for values, looking for passionate, reliable people who want to empower their clients. It also opens care as a role for many people who need flexible working arrangements. People like Shilpe, who created a profile on CareBIG and was contacted by a lady looking for help with a family member. She now receives £10 per hour and is able to give her best, each and every time. Less rushing means the ability to take time to get to know her clients better, their likes and dislikes. It’s not a tick box exercise, she’s looking after someone the right way. “I was struggling to find work until I came across CareBIG. I now work around my schedule and kids. It has really given me back my independence and I am so happy with the role I have now :). The client is at the heart of how I work and it means everything to me knowing they are getting the level of support they need from me. Could I do that with an agency? They would take over my life and leave me struggling both at work and at home.”Whether you arrange your homecare services through a regular agency or CareBIG, there is no quick fix to the problems within care but perhaps the quickest is to treat our care workers with more respect for the amazing job they do. That in turn will help to reduce the numbers leaving and attract more great people to work in an industry more rewarding than most in human terms if not financial.