Thursday, 14 July 2011

Poorly Paid Care Agency Workers

Whether young or old the employment message these days is that there are no jobs for life and in order to progress, to work your way up the earnings ladder, you must continuously improve yourself, usually by gaining more qualifications - the better qualified the more marketable the greater potential for improved earnings.

Money, pay, is the determining indicator of value in the workplace. This wasn't always the case; but today we see workers in the public and voluntary sectors being forced to take pay cuts and having their, in many cases, pittance of pensions further eroded.

Given the hourly rates paid out by local authorities for PA/carers, it's fairly obvious this category of worker is poorly valued. My carers have not had a pay rise since April 2009; as such their hourly rates are now below the London Living Wage - a rate which even the arch-Tory Johnson is in agreement.

When people are valued so little, exactly what skills can we expect them to bring to the job? Should they be skilled cooks; do they need the table etiquette of a highly skilled, and probably equally financially rewarded, butler; can we expect them to be expert launderers?

Prior to receiving Direct Payments agency personnel carried out my care needs. For the most these were young foreign students, who, on the whole carried out their duties with care and respect to me as the client. As I recall over a 4-week period I had a turnover of about nine or ten different carers, the longest continuous period was ten days, followed by six and the rest a few days down to three in one day!

For the most part these workers were unfamiliar with English/British cuisine. It fell upon me to show them some very rudimentary dishes. Stews, casseroles, spag bol, chilli with rice, salads, etc for the two who stayed more than a day or two; pot luck for the others.

Let me give you an idea what these agency workers endured. They'd begin work at 8 am and sometimes finish at midnight. During that sixteen-hour period they may only have spent 8-hours with clients; they could have spent 3 or 4 hours travelling between clients in their own time; and, the rest of the time was unpaid.

Those studying tended to fill the 'idle' time between clients in university libraries or Internet cafes, when they could find such facilities; for others it was dead time - yet, they were effectively working a 16-hour day for 8-hours pay.

Who then should be responsible for ensuring these workers have the prerequisite skills to go into our homes and cook, clean and carry out our personal care needs. Is it the responsibility of the poorly paid and put-upon agency worker; or, is it the profit reaping agency? We've not even looked at H&S training or CRB checks.

Blaming poorly paid and undertrained workers for not owning the skills and tools for the job is, in my view, grossly unfair and an easy way out. Agencies must share part of the blame for under-deliverance of these vital services; they enter the contracts knowing that after they've skimmed off their profit the remaining monies will only stretch to delivering the poorest of services. Governments and local authorities are also aware that quality care when farmed-out to the cheapest tender delivers a third-rate service. But, more than anything, we the end users, the ones whose diets and health are compromised; we're the ones who have to tolerate the lack of continuity that agency care delivers; and, we're the ones whose quality of life suffers as the result of couldn't-care-less-Tories determining what is best for us.  

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