Socialist Worker

Private care homes are past caring

by Peter Nicholls, Glasgow
Issue No. 1872

Earlier this year I dropped out of university after a period of illness and found myself in this new era of 'near full employment' working in the private service sector.

I am a care worker and have worked in numerous institutions over the past few years.

So called care homes take in the elderly and long term ill when the council cannot afford to pay for care in their own homes.

Most of the care workers in these places work very long hours for very little money. My last job, in a home for the elderly in Glasgow, paid me £4.50 an hour.

The standard shift is four days out of five, doing either an afternoon shift from 2pm to 9pm, or a morning one from 7.30am to 2pm.

The work is best described as manual labour-lifting and moving the residents, dressing them and helping them to the toilet.

A lot are extremely heavy and there are no rules to stop staff lifting manually.

You are constantly on your feet, responding to the almost constant ringing of buzzers. It's like a factory assembly line. Get them dressed, breakfast, etc.

The residents have very little stimulus and they are subjected to a ruthlessly institutional routine.

The staff are overworked and underpaid. We would do overtime of a 'full day' right from 7.30am to 9pm-this overtime paid at £1 extra an hour. After working a full day I would be completely physically and mentally exhausted.

Such knackering hours bred resentment in the staff towards the residents and each other- an unnecessary burden.

Everybody ends up bitter and dehumanised in what is supposed to be a caring environment. The longer people work there, the worse they get.

I met a woman who had worked there for ten years. She hated the residents and saw them as an unnecessary burden.

Behind all this, the private company Westminster Healthcare bullies people into taking overtime so they can deal with chronic staff shortages. Four people started work with me and within a month all had left.

It is clear the company only wants to make money out of running down the NHS (the majority of residents were NHS referrals).

And it is clear the company has very little interest in creating good working conditions for staff or giving the residents quality of life beyond merely shunting them from the toilet to their bed.

The place was unsurprisingly non-unionised and so the workers were easily pitched against each other.

Resentment runs deep among the staff, making a difficult job even worse because you don't know what's being said behind your back.

The matron was a complete tool.

She was no hands-on person and seemed more occupied with pulling staff up about sheets left hanging or badly presented jobs than anything else.

I was very quick to hate her when I saw her bullying, petty mentality.

All these things became an increasing pressure for me. I quit after ending up doing two full days together.

I have little choice but to find a better job in the same sector because student fees and loans have left me massively in debt.

I'm not the only one. Many people face similar problems when leaving university regardless of whether they have a degree.

The reality of employment is badly paid, thankless service sector jobs-a lot of people my age do not see much other option in regard to work.


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Sat 11 Oct 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1872
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