The Simon Heng Column

Sometimes I wonder about how we, as a society, place a value on the
jobs that people do. In general, the more intellectual a job is,
the more it seems to pay. There are glaring exceptions, of course.
Professional footballers are paid an astronomical amount for their
rare physical talents. And electricians and plumbers seem to cost a
fortune, because their talents and skills are in increasingly short
supply and high demand.

Caring professions are both low-status and poorly paid by
comparison. The nursing profession seems to have added to its value
by moving from a vocation which involved practical, sensitive and
expert care of ill people to a highly academic discipline. Nursing
is now a degree-level qualification, and training involves a small
fraction of the patient contact and care of 20 or more years ago.
Higher status, and higher levels of pay, perhaps, but in my
experience, it has also meant a loss of sensitivity to the
day-to-day physical and emotional needs of patients.

This change contributes to keeping low the pay and status of the
people who do the day-to-day caring, and who are still, in the
main, unqualified. If asked, most people would say that carers do a
valuable job, which few would choose to do themselves.

Cleaning up other people’s mess, giving intimate personal care and
tending to sick and dying people, or those with challenging
behaviour, and doing it with empathy and compassion is often
performed by truly gifted people. Yet their work only seems to be
worth the minimum wage. Informal carers earn even less – for caring
for their relatives, they get a pittance.

We live in an ageing society, and people with chronic illnesses
live longer. We will need more carers. Budgeting for care is
becoming more stringent, and so wages are kept low.

When are we, as a society, going to recognise that caring is a
vocation that not only needs to be recognised, but also properly
rewarded? If people are so put off coming into this work by the
poor pay, how will we ever find out if they have the gift of

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