Who can afford to care?

Once again, I’m in the middle of trying to recruit another personal assistant to my team of carers. And, once again, I’m finding it difficult to find the right person for the job.

As a user of direct payments, I’m able to offer a better hourly rate than the local care agencies. Even so, my adverts in the local newspaper only produced four serious responses – and I know that other direct payments users have found it just as difficult to recruit. People get paid more for stacking shelves in the local supermarket than they would for care work – and, working for Tesco, they can avoid the hassle of having to deal with dissatisfied relatives.

Although the rates of pay are probably the biggest disincentive, it seems to me that many of the people who answered my adverts saw domiciliary care work as low-status: almost all of them were returning to the job market after a break from paid employment. Their perception seemed to be that it’s work that is easy to acquire, unskilled, and needs little commitment. The years of attempting to raise the status of care work, with offers of in-service training and encouragement to work for formal qualifications, like NVQs, seem to have had little or no impact on public perception.

On the other hand, over the years, I’m lucky enough to have found some people who treat caring as a vocation. People who see the care of others as rewarding in itself, in spite of the low wages. People who will work overtime, sometimes unpaid, to ensure that their charges are safe, comfortable and healthy. Many people would get job satisfaction from care work – if they could afford to take it.

When I read that Dame Denise Platt called the care sector “lacking confidence, timid in its vision and ambition, poorly understood by the public, and widely considered to provide low-quality and unsafe services… (needing) an injection of imagination, excitement and enthusiasm” I couldn’t agree more. At the moment, who would want to work in this sector, for barely more than the minimum wage?

Care services minister Ivan Lewis has laid out the agenda for his “clear and ambitious plan for the future” – in SocialCare21, which looks to improve quality and disseminate best practice. I just hope that the double whammy of low pay and low status is not ignored again.

Simon Heng is a wheelchair user and is involved in user-led organisations.

Simon Heng is a speaker at Community Care LIVE, Islington, London on 16-17 May.
Register free at www.communitycare.co.uk/cclive/registration.htm

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