At the crux of a crisis

The contribution of so-called “informal” carers is now estimated
to be worth hundreds of millions, if not billions of pounds. But
what about the multitude of paid carers? What about “caring” as a

In some areas of the country people who provide personal care
are paid less than shelf-stackers in the local supermarket. In
times of high employment, care posts are among the hardest to fill,
perhaps because they are so badly paid and involve such unsociable
of hours; perhaps because they are seen as being difficult jobs to

Recent changes in standards required for training, and
opportunities for paid carers to acquire national vocational
qualifications are, I’m sure, well-intentioned. I am equally sure
that they miss the mark for many people who get involved in care
work. Not everybody wants to “professionalise” their job, by
climbing a ladder of qualifications and promotion. Many people
would prefer to be simply better paid for a job they already find
rewarding. Make no mistake, there are some special people in this
world who have a talent, a gift if you like, for caring. These
people have an ability to put themselves in the position of the
people they are caring for, and work from that perspective, with
empathy, and get a great deal of satisfaction from making people as
comfortable and independent as possible.

Often, carers are taken for granted, by their employers and even
by the people they help. Until recently, I didn’t appreciate fully
how much my carers have put into their work with me. I have begun
to realise that, when it is working well, the relationship between
the cared-for and the carer is unique in its harmony and its
intimacy. When people say that they find caring rewarding, this
must be what they mean. I would like to take this opportunity to
let them know that I appreciate the difference that they have made
to the quality of my life.

As a society, we need to improve the value that we place upon
caring, and the value that we hold the people with this particular
talent. Our population is an ageing one, we all know that. In the
near future, more and more people will need to be cared for, as
more people survive serious illnesses and consequently acquire
disabilities, particularly as they grow older, or even just because
they have grown older. We will need the talented carers and so we
will need to value them, both in terms of status and financial

This isn’t a matter of market forces: the scarcity of carers
will not mean that care work will automatically be higher paid,
because budgets set by national and local government don’t value
this role highly enough to attract enough of the right people to
fill these jobs. Unlike the scarcity of teachers, police and
nurses, this will increasingly be a hidden crisis, with those least
able to complain suffering the most.

I know. I might be one of them sooner rather than later.

Simon Heng is a wheelchair user, and has been
tetraplegic for the past seven years.

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