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