The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated that women's work is consistently undervalued – particularly in the social care sector. In this blog, a newly trained care worker shares her experience of working in the sector during this crisis, and highlights the stark realities of care work that she and her co-workers face on a daily basis.

Safety when visiting clients

I feel fairly safe visiting my clients because they are mainly elderly or vulnerable and have therefore been shielding for about two months. We’re given aprons and gloves which we must change between clients and between duties such as going from personal care to food preparation. In the past two weeks, we’ve also been given masks, which I do not believe offer any protection. The masks do not create an air-tight seal and therefore are of no use whatsoever. If the virus is in the air it can easily get into the side of the mask. Also, most of my clients have their heating on all of the time, so if I'm helping them into the bath or the shower, the temperature in the washroom makes wearing a mask impossible. But of most concern to me is that I have to use the same mask for up to six clients, so to me the mask is acting as a carrier and not as a protective layer.

One of the things I find most shocking is that elderly people who die in their homes of Coronavirus aren’t being included in the death toll numbers. They are dying prematurely and their lives are being cut short. The scale of the outbreak is being hidden.

Care vs speed vs money

It goes without saying, care staff are exploited. The agency I work for charges £25 per hour and £18 per half-hour to the clients. Staff are paid £10 per hour and £5 per half-hour. We are not given adequate time to travel from client to client and are paid less than £10 per hour for our travel time. This results in arriving late for a client appointment and having to leave early for the next one in order to complete the calls for the day. Car expenses are not payable, we are on zero hours contracts and there is no sick pay. I don’t want routine testing to be put in place because if I get tested positive then I will have two weeks without income and nothing to live on.

I had no prior experience of working in care and I find the training inadequate. I completed Levels 1 and 2 of a range of care qualifications, where the trainer drip-fed the class answers in order that we could all pass. I only had one day of shadowing another member of staff and on my second day at work, with no experience or training, I had to change a client’s ostomy bag. I also have to put on pressure stockings for my clients, despite not being trained in this procedure either. Stockings that are put on incorrectly can lead to complications including the loss of toes.

Many of the staff struggle to provide full care for their clients during the little time we have with them. I have 30-minutes to prepare a meal for my clients, and I am the only member of staff at my agency who can actually do this. The problem is that while staff are instructed to encourage clients to eat healthy foods, the clients are encouraged to buy microwaveable ready meals, so that it's easier for the staff to prepare when they arrive.

I believe the pressure to complete calls in the time given, while trying to meet the basic care needs of clients, is one of the main reasons for the high staff turnover in the care sector. It’s basically impossible to achieve. But once you have undergone the training, you must stay with the agency for six months otherwise you have to repay the monies earned whilst training. Based on what I have experienced so far, I will be leaving once my six months is up.

This blog is anonymous to protect the care worker. 

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