I love being a home care worker, but I hate the insecurity
Oh joy! Today I received a letter from HMRC stating I have been overpaid tax credits in relation to my childcare costs. I will have to pay back any money owed and may face a penalty for failure to inform them of a change in my circumstances. I would never knowingly claim money fraudulently, and I’m really not sure how I will ever pay back the money they are asking for.
This is the reality of zero-hours contracts.
I agreed a contract for childcare which included costs that were passed to HMRC tax credits department. But my hours changed, as they do every week. One week I may have 60 hours work and childcare may be near £300, others my hours may drop to 13, and my need for childcare dissipates. Do I pay for childcare I can’t afford, just to keep the HMRC wolf from the door? Or do I live in hope that things improve next week?
The eternal optimist, I fell for the latter.
I’m a home care worker and I have been for most of my working life. I really don’t ever think about doing anything else. I love my job, I love the variety, I love the people I am lucky enough to work with. I don’t like the insecurity, I don’t like the debts, I don’t like the nights I lie awake wondering when will I ever be financially secure?
I am lucky to have found a job that I enjoy. The thought of working somewhere that doesn’t make me happy keeps me here battling at the bottom of the pile, wanting someone to change and improve things, not only for me but the hundreds of thousands of care workers across this country: care workers who are working with people with increasingly complex needs, care workers in the same or often worse situations than mine.
When I started out I worked for the local authority, I had a guaranteed contract and a very good rate of pay. Yet as private equity firms have taken control of the sector, zero-hours contracts have become increasingly more prevalent. As the local authority sold off its in-house services the only place to go was to one of these faceless corporations that were sweeping up social care in this country.
Huge firms raking in millions of pounds profit each year, yet they still can’t give me the hours to guarantee a decent work-life balance. I can have a 60-70 hour week or just enough hours to put some petrol in the car – is it any wonder I suffer from anxiety? On occasions I have had to refuse medication for my anxiety, because I simply couldn’t afford the prescription that week.
Is this really the way I want to live?
A few weeks ago one of my regular clients died. We had been together for a long time and had a really close bond. She shared things with me that even her family didn’t know. I feel so guilty. When I was told she had died my first thought was ‘that’s 20 hours a week gone’. Someone who depended on me, who trusted me as a friend, and that was my first thought?
But that’s the reality. A sad reality for many.
Is it too much to ask that care workers are valued and respected? We spend our time caring for the most vulnerable in society yet who cares for us? I have seen many good workers leave frustrated at the poor pay and the way zero-hours contracts are used by way of punishment and reward. If you turn down a shift, hours you were depending on can be taken and given to others, sometimes with only hours’ notice. I have seen how many use this as a way to simply force out staff who may have complained about quality of care. Is this acceptable? Duty of care means that we have to raise concerns, yet many are too scared of the implications financially if they do.
Isn’t it time someone understood their duty of care to us?
Isn’t it time those with the power to make a difference respected and valued care?
As much as I do.