Socialist Worker

‘We are made to feel our job isn’t valuable’ - care staff speak out

by Sarah Bates
Issue No. 2699

Home care workers in Birmingham on strike in 2018

Home care workers in Birmingham on strike in 2018. Now other care workers say they are being put at risk during the coronavirus crisis (Pic: Birmingham Unison)


Coronavirus puts hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people in adult social care services at risk. 

The daily figures for how many people have died due to coronavirus only include people who have died in hospitals.

So the scale of the crisis in care homes is unknown. But a single care home in Glasgow has recorded 16 deaths in a week in what is suspected to be a Covid-19 outbreak.

The Burlington Court home in the Cranhill area of the city is run by private firm Four Seasons

The news will add to care workers’ anger that they aren’t being tested and can’t access the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need.

Support worker Julia, employed by a private company, works with people with a learning disability in their own homes and in the community.

She told Socialist Worker, “There’s no equipment—no masks, no gloves.”

She added that care workers are “made to feel as though our job is not valuable”. “When we work in the community, we’re not seen as being at risk,” she said.

Workers are demanding gloves, masks, aprons and hand gel at every home they visit. 

Self-isolating

Julia said low pay means workers aren’t self-isolating when they should be. 

“Staff are so scared that they’ll get fired, lose their job or not get paid at the correct time,” she said. “We are paid £8.30 an hour—we are fighting for £9.10, we need to keep up the fight for this.”

London community occupational therapist Janet works with people discharged from hospitals into their homes. 

Workers are even struggling to carry out even the most basic hand washing measures. 

“We don’t have alcohol gel,” Janet told Socialist Worker. “They say to use hot soapy water but in people’s homes, they don’t necessarily have soap or hot water. Sometimes they don’t have a sink.”

Janet added that a rush to get people out of hospital could leave people at risk.

“They may send people home straight from intensive care—normally they would go to a high intensive ward,” she said.

“There’s a huge level of anxiety among workers over what is coming.” 

Janet is a pseudonym

Private firms and for-profit homes put safety second

Coronavirus has exposed a system of for-profit care homes, that puts workers and service users at risk. 

A report from the Centre for Health and Public Interest think tank, published in 2019, found that care home bosses grab at least £1.5 billion every year in profits. 

Helen Davies is chair of the Unison union in Barnet, north London.

“The private sector has ripped through the whole sector,” she told Socialist Worker.

“There are rubbish terms and conditions.

“But I don’t think there is one care worker who has taken up the role thinking that they will one day be putting their life on the line.”

Workers are battling inadequate PPE and pressure from bosses to get them into work, even when some of them should be at home.

“Managers are managing quite tight resources, and it doesn’t necessarily bring out the best in people,” said Helen.

“Some bosses are becoming more draconian as a result. 

“You get people being asked to work who really shouldn’t be working because they fall into the vulnerable category.”

Helen was speaking in a personal capacity

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