A care worker has described a pay rise for workers in Salford as “just what we need” for a stressful job.
But, according to public service Union UNISON, there are still problems left to solve.
“Care workers are not properly valued for the important job they do,” claims Paula Barker of UNISON North West.
“The Salford initiative is a big step in the right direction on pay, but we should not lose sight of the fact than even with a 10 per cent pay rise, home care workers will still be paid less than the real living wage of £8.45.
“Away from Salford, wage rates are barely above the legal minimum of £7.50 per hour – and non-payment of travel time and inadequate payment for sleep-in shifts can bring staff below even that.”
Evie Shawyer, a Domiciliary Care Assistant and Support Worker says: “It’s an emotional roller coaster – you have some brilliant days, you really do, and I couldn’t tell you in words how amazingly rewarding it is when you do a great job and you see the positive impact.”
Evie’s primary responsibility is caring for those who need help with day-to-day tasks, such as preparing meals, tidying up, or even using the toilet.
“I’ve worked in domiciliary care for two years now. Before that, I worked in residential care for almost three years,” explained Evie.
“You have stressful days and it can start to feel overwhelming. People outside of care have to realise that along with basic aspects of the job like medication, well-being checks, personal care and meals, we also carry people’s emotional burdens, their worries, and their fears.
“We go home at the end of the day, but we don’t just leave that person’s situation at the door – we carry on worrying, or rather we carry on ‘caring’ for them mentally because we want to try help them feel better.”
Evie’s typical work day starts at 7am, and consists of dozens of individual house calls, with sporadic 30-minute breaks in between, and a 2-hour break for lunch; however, it’s never an easy day’s work.
“I punched the air and shouted, “YES!”, when I heard. “This is just what we need!”
“Where it would appear I get up to 45 minutes for breaks, I don’t,” she continues. “Because the calls are scheduled back-to-back, with no driving time between calls, you effectively use your break time to get to where you need to be.”
With no consideration for driving time, her breaks are often cut short, which can cause problems.
“I carry a flask in my car of coffee, bottles of water and a lunch tin of snacks so I can eat on the go – stopping places and buying drinks gets pricey, so I take my own picnic with me every day.
“Dom’ carers like me effectively have a ‘safe list’ of where they can use the toilet. That’s regular clients we visit who will allow us to nip into the loo! It sounds terrible, I know it does, and I don’t think that we should be imposing on clients in this way, but what can you do when you need a tinkle?” She chuckles.
After a day of tidying, washing, cooking and caring, she clocks off at 9:15, leaving her just a couple of hours to relax with her husband and pets before she does it all over again the next day.
Naturally, news of the pay rise came as a great relief for Evie. “I punched the air and shouted, “YES!” when I heard! This is just what we need!” She says.
Though based in County Durham, she firmly believes it to be a step forward for care workers across the country.
“Even when fast food staff are striking, I supported it, because if there can be a change for one group of low income earners, we can push for that wave of change for ALL low income earners,” She explains.
“Personally I don’t think I will be affected just yet – I say “just yet” because the reality is that councils are not going to sit up and say “Oh righto! They did it, we’ll do it too then.” It’s going to take the care staff and unions across the country to push this change everywhere.”
“The Salford initiative is a big step in the right direction on pay, but we should not lose sight of the fact than even with a 10 per cent pay rise, home care workers will still be paid less than the real living wage.”
According to charity Skills for Care, one in four care workers like Evie are on zero-hours contracts – with no fixed contract, job security for these vital carers is non-existent, and household incomes can rise and fall on a weekly basis.
But Paula Barker from UNISON remains hopeful: “Salford has shown that where there is the political will, and even a modest amount of extra funding, a progressive policy can be adopted that is of real benefit to low-paid workers.
“We will continue to work with policy-makers in Salford to further improve pay and employment standards in social care.”