Imagine you’re walking or wheeling down the street and you see a guy in a manual wheelchair being pulled along by another guy in an electric wheelchair, how would you react? If you are like most people you would look bemused, but what if the wheelchair was sporting banners? Would you not agree that this makes a great advertising billboard?
I’m Matt Smith, 33, and I have cerebral palsy. I live in Lincoln and have been employing carers and support workers for over 14 years. I have been fortunate enough to meet and work with some fantastic people, many of whom are my good friends. Over the last 12 months, I have tried to recruit a new carer for 30 hours (2 days) a week at £8 per hour, plus sleep-ins, but this has been in vain.
For those of you who are probably thinking of the various places I could advertise, I would like to disclose that I am a qualified journalist and marketer and so I have a pretty good idea: Jobcentre, local paper, social media, Gumtree.com, and various other websites.
Admittedly I have conducted interviews during the last year, but as many of you will understand, it is crucial to get the right carer. You want to find someone who you can spend a lot of time with – it is like a marriage, but in some ways more intimate.
A long-term friendship
People who employ care staff on a one-to-one basis have different opinions about the role of a carer. For me, my carers are my friends as well, so if we do not get on then it just does not work. It is therefore vital for me to find someone I get on with before even considering employing them.
Out of the eight interviews I’ve conducted this year, only one was suitable. Unfortunately, this fell through because he took another job, just four days before he was due to start with me.
My care staff work on a rota basis – one carer is contracted for three days and two for two days a week. In October 2013, one of my carers fell long term sick and it became clear I needed cover. My two remaining carers had struggled to manage, despite help from my family and friends.
We had managed for eleven months and I thought we had finally found a new carer, so when he pulled out at the last minute it wasn’t just me who was disappointed. My carers had been thinking about their much needed annual leave, which has had to be postponed.
By now, many of you may be asking so why I haven’t gone to agency staff? Put simply, I am not willing to pay £12 plus per hour because I cannot afford it.
I believe many care agencies are major factors in why many disabled people live in poverty, charging them extortionate rates just so they can live.
I occasionally go for long drives in my wheelchair and I tow my carers along, thus why I named it the ‘wheelchair train’. A couple of weeks ago there was a Steam Punk festival in Lincoln, so we took the ‘wheelchair train’. Throughout the drive, people would stop and look in bemusement and this made me think that this could be a good opportunity to advertise my vacant carer position.
Two days after the festival, the ‘wheelchair train’ took to the streets of Lincoln city centre decked out with adverts. I also wrote an article for our local newspaper and within hours of it being published I received numerous requests for application forms.
Since the media coverage, I’ve sent out 47 application packs but as yet I’ve only had one back. The closing date is 4 October so I remain hopeful that my new carer is just around the bend!