Front Line Focus: Hey hey we’re the monkeys!

Recent pay wrangles have once again highlighted the low value of social care workers. Any derisory percentage increase just means a few more peanuts. That’s OK if you happen to be a monkey. For a body of hard-working professionals it’s simply laughable.

The amount we pay for a service is surely a rough value of it’s worth. In case anyone was in any doubt, social care pay reflects the fact that as a society we value the money market much more than we do people. The value of money over people must serve as an indictment on any society with a pretension to be civilised.

Caring professions, from nurses to social workers, have more in common than just low pay. They are traditionally seen as female-dominated professions. And traditionally the work done by women is undervalued. Stereotypical views that women are “naturally” good at caring roles prevail. For our society it seems debatable whether we should pay someone to care at all. After all it originates from the domestic sphere of nurturing, a separate sphere altogether from the public, male-dominated one of work. Hence caring professions are labelled as vocations – a patronising way of saying that it’s not for the money, stupid.

Management is a means of escape. Even in the caring professions it’s a bit more macho, a bit more patriarchal, something that society can more comfortably reward. The more a person moves from the role of directly caring for people, the further the displacement, the higher their monetary worth. People are rewarded for moving away from the role of a practitioner that, presumably, most came into public service to carry out.

As a manager of residential services I may be stuck in the office going over budget figures. This means my non-manager colleague has to go shopping with a service user to buy the week’s groceries for the unit. Is his/her contribution any less? Of course not. In fact some may argue the contrary. So why isn’t this reflected in real terms – pay?

Any social care worker, qualified or not, should be able to comfortably support their family. Many currently subsist. The current pay inequalities puts the care services at risk. According to a recent report by the Equal Opportunities Commission staff turnover rates, particularly in residential care and early years day care, are unacceptably high. This doesn’t bode well for good quality care provision. In the end we get the service that we deserve.

Nigel Leaney manages a mental health residential service

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