From the TUC

Zero hours, low pay, caring under time pressure – my life as a homecare worker

03 Apr 2014, By

My name is Sandra*. I have worked as a homecare worker for 24 years.

When I first started out in the care sector it was a very different place to how it is to today. I was employed by my local council, allowed to work as many hours as I needed to make ends meet and had a full rota of regular clients.

I was given regular training and professional development and didn’t have to rush between appointments. I had time to build up relationships with service users, listen to their concerns and worries so they felt cared for and valued.

Things have changed a lot since then. A few years ago I was transferred over to a profit-making company and put onto a zero-hours contract. Overnight I lost my right to sick pay and I was no longer paid for travel time between clients. This effectively means that I can do a full days’ work (travelling between appointments) and only get paid for the time I spend in service users’ houses. This is a way for companies to cut back on staff costs and means that carers have to do loads of overtime to get the equivalent of eight hours pay.

A third of care workers in England are on a Zero Hours Contract, rising to over 50% in London – compared to a national average of just 2.9% The vast majority of these are women like me – who are being forced to compete with others for work.

Rather than employing fewer people on sensible rotas for-profit providers have large pools of casual staff they can call on when they want. This gives the companies greater flexibility but means there is less work to go around.

I used to work 30 hours a week but the most I can get at the moment is 23. If I could get back the seven hours I lost, I would be over £300 a month better off. That would improve my standard of living greatly.

Low pay and casualisation in the care sector has been bad for workers and for clients who rely upon us. Our time with service users is far more rushed; they get upset and depressed and feel like no one cares for them. They feel they are forgotten because they are old.

My mum had a stroke and with the help of her local in-house care service we managed to keep her in her own home. It pains me to say if she was alive today I would give up homecare to look after her as I know she would not receive the care she and all service users should have.

There should be time to care for service users properly and time for carers to complete their work in the way it should be done. These service users are known as vulnerable adults. How vulnerable do they have to been to get a good service? If they were children and receiving a bad service people would be up in arms because you can’t do that to children. But we do it to our elderly even though their needs are the similar – they need help to wash, dress, get their breakfast.

Care quality will not improve if workers continue to be employed on zero-hour contracts and on low wages. Without fair pay and fair terms service users will not get fair care and conditions will only get worse.

*The author’s name has been changed as she wishes to remain anonymous.

3 Responses to Zero hours, low pay, caring under time pressure – my life as a homecare worker

  1. John
    Apr 3rd 2014, 9:58 am

    A blog post that rings very true for me. My Dad had a lot of help from agency carers and in one firm in particular their working terms were probably the worst I’ve ever encountered in the UK. It just continually amazed me that they were such diligent and caring people despite the fact they had such enormous problems in their own lives as a result of the terrible agency contract model – The (unsurprisingly profitable) firm paid them so little and then tried to claw even that back through zero hours that kept them hanging for work or cancelled their leave at no notice, not paying their travel between clients and paying travel expenses below cost.

  2. John
    Apr 4th 2014, 6:21 am

    We have totally regressed under a finacial ‘bottom line’ tory government. They are completely out of touch. The modern equivalent of workhouses will be with us if tbey ever get re elected. Subjective commemts on a very objective moving article. (25 years ago i was the parent of a severly handicapped child. Care workers are just as essential now as they were then).

  3. Martin Shaw
    Apr 4th 2014, 11:37 am

    I have friends that work in care and I am shocked not just at how bad the pay, and what they are expected to do on that pay but how little thought there is for the health and safety of the workers!

    For example there are service users that are sexually aggressive towards women, as usual most of the workforce is women as in most areas of care, but there is no support for workers who are attacked, very little warning to workers about the possibility of attacks.

    I think the unions really need to get into sorting out workers rights in care work. Its crying out for some union work.