Who cares?

I have been thinking a lot about the state of the care sector. With social care seeming to fall low on the United Kingdom’s list of financial priorities, it’s no wonder the sector has come under scrutiny in recent years and many clients (with ££) are subsequently turning to private care. Since completing my training and working as a carer for several months now, I already have a plethora of experiences. These have contributed greatly to my understanding of the sector, the plights of both those receiving care and those working within it, and how the whole situation can tell us so much about where we are going wrong socially and systemically. I will not pretend to have the answers to such complex, multi-faceted dilemmas, but aim to dissect some of these issues throughout my dissertation with the hope of contributing something useful at the end of it. This blog post focuses on the plight of carers themselves.

(N.B. This is not to say that the difficulties experienced by clients themselves are not incredibly worthy of note, and perhaps the most important area of exploration needed. I hope to address these in the future but could not do the topic justice here just yet).

I have started keeping an journal of my professional experiences at work and beyond, which has proved invaluable since the offset. Looking back on my reflections so far, a prevailing theme has been the trials and tribulations of carers. I’ve transcribed one of these below.

A client’s wife asked me about my salary today and found it baffling that sports-people are paid so substantially in comparison (Wimbledon was on at the time of this conversation). We agreed that our priorities as a society are absolutely in the wrong place.

Care work is inherently easy to get into. I myself entered with no previous qualifications in care work nor any real relevant experience (besides a three month stint at Age UK back in September and about five years worth of hospitality employment). In fact, I was surprised when the phone rang after my interview with the promise of a job, and in my opinion a reasonable starting wage, if I should want it.

I myself am rather self-motivated and like to be good at what I do. This lends itself well to care work, since you truly do get out what you put in. However, perhaps the reason for an increasing complacency and supposed laziness in some care quality is due to the fact that the amount required of workers often does not translate well into pay or incentives. This appears to be the case across the board of medical professions, as evidenced by the National Health Service’s increasing struggle to keep juniors interested. To complicate matters further, many (myself included) find that the value of the job itself often outweighs the bank account balance.

Of course, NHS staff go through arduous training and work incredibly hard which, in my opinion, should be rewarded with fair, equivalent pay. However, I also believe that care workers, in care homes or community settings, are so overlooked. As Wolpert notes in Malignant Sadness, ‘[t]here are very few descriptions of the tribulations suffered by carers’ (1999: 10). Whereas hospitals and doctors surgeries are medicalised and public, the nature of care work is inherently private – particularly in the area of home care. The invisible nature of the job, then, coupled with the long hours, physical and mental strain, and strict rules about confidentiality, results in an exponential under-representation of the experience of care workers.

Perhaps even more interesting than this is the amount of times I have told someone about my profession, to which they respond “I couldn’t do your job”. Of course, wiping twenty different rear ends throughout a shift probably isn’t a dream job for many people. This, however, is just the start, and an incredibly reductive way of thinking about the demands of care work. I often wonder whether frequency of bodily fluids is the real reason that people feel they ‘couldn’t’ be carers. Since becoming one, I have developed a strong stomach for many things, but what I can’t digest is the view that carers are not doing their best under incredibly difficult circumstances, increasing demands. Of course some people are just bad at their jobs, but this is not improved by lack of investment and a general lack of acknowledgement of the fantastic, life-changing care that many do deliver on a daily basis.

Care has become an important but inseparable part of my life. I realised this when I was laying in bed after a 14-hour shift and noticed my uniform hanging on the wardrobe, adamant to remind me of the day I’d just had. I’ve started to think about how other carers’ lived experiences compare, and I’m considering the possibilities of exploring this photographically. More to come.

Wolpert, L. 1999. Malignant Sadness: The Anatomy of Depression. London: Faber & Faber

Published by Nel Jade

Research interests include domiciliary care, visual methods, affect and emotional geographies.

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