Lynda Bardsley is a former home support worker who feels home care services have suffered under privatisation. Here she outlines the best and worst decisions she has made.
The best decision I ever made was to join social services in 1987 as a (then) home help. Despite almost 10 years of Thatcherism, services for older people were still generally good. You could spend time with people, build up relationships and make genuine efforts to meet their day-to-day needs.
Importantly, service users felt they were getting good value. They used to know who was going to visit them and when, and that workers would spend time with them. Overall, personal needs were being met, which ensure in turn that users could remain in their own homes and near to people they knew. It really was a satisfying occupation.
Managerialism increasingly took hold during the nineties as managers became occupied by budgets, paperwork, eligibility criteria and so on. They spent their time in the office, well away from what was happening on the frontline. Because of this, there still remained an element of autonomy and discretion for home support workers, and it remained possible to provide a personalised service despite the managerial obstacles. My desire to provide a personal service led to stressful confrontations with managers, which initially I accepted as part of the job.
My worst decision was to continue as a home support worker as managerial domination and service privatisation continued under New Labour.
Standards of service undoubtedly suffered as profit-driven private companies sought to lower their wage bills and make people work harder, and failed to take training seriously. “Getting more for less” might be one of David Cameron’s latest sound-bites but I can assure you it all started back in the nineties.
Visits to people became rushed and sometimes did not even take place because of the pressure of work. Furthermore, people often did not even know who was coming to visit them, causing considerable confusion, upset and distress. Attempts to address such issues by taking them up with managers, was upsetting for me at a personal level. Ultimately it took its toll on my health.
Eventually, I had to retire on health grounds and with hindsight I wish I had got out earlier. This might seem like capitulating to the free market economy and society we live in, but I can assure you that colleagues and I did do our best for a long time.
Since the nineties it seems as if we have been banging our heads against a brick wall. In the past taking things up with your trade union might have been a way forward.
Most disappointing of all is the fact that New Labour has betrayed what the old Labour Party really stood for.
Lynda Bardsley was a home help/home support worker for almost 20 years