From the TUC

I love being a home care worker, but I hate the insecurity

17 Dec 2014, by in Working Life

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.

8 Responses to I love being a home care worker, but I hate the insecurity

  1. Tracey Cowan
    Dec 17th 2014, 8:31 pm

    hi helen, i totally agree with you. I also work as a homecare worker on a zero hours contract. The wages are low. We are only paid for the time in calls although if were in calls for longer than stated on our rotas were not paid the extra time no matter what the curcumstances. Our days can be very long especially as a full days split into 4 different shifts. Mornings lunches teas and bed. Sometimes starting at 6am and not finishing till after 10pm. Then having to get up and do the same thing again the next day. Apart from the lovely work coleagues that i work with the real pleasureis caring for the lovely clients that we look after. Our company is all about profit and not about care neither for the carers or the clients.

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  3. Barnaby Hughes
    Dec 19th 2014, 4:31 pm

    It’s a crying shame to read this account of carers. When will the blockheaded idiots of this country that blithely vote Tory or UKIP get behind the revolution against this runaway rampant greedy capitilism.

  4. Bobbie
    Dec 19th 2014, 5:13 pm

    Home Care workers are real live angels among us who do an invaluable, needful, vital job. Without them our caring social community needs, particularly for the elderly and those unable to look after themselves, would see society fall back into the dark ages when the needy were totally on their own without hope until the Welfare State came into being. Now with a growing elderly population home care worker skills are required even more. Status, respect and fair remuneration to these ‘angels’ MUST NOW urgently be reassessed for the sake of us all who one day may need a care working angel by our bedside or when we are in old age or disability need. Thank you to all our care workers whether statutorily employed or home carers to their elderly relative.

  5. Helen
    Dec 19th 2014, 6:47 pm

    I hadn’t realised that my blog had been published until today and I felt the need to say a great big thankyou for the wonderful comments posted above. Bobbie in particular you made me cry, its great to know we ‘angels’ have the support of the wider community. The system is fundamentally broken and fails everyone involved, we must fight for change! And all carers must join UNISON they can support our fight for quality, perhaps we can change things?

  6. Gary
    Dec 20th 2014, 1:01 am

    This sounds so familiar. I have been a part time domiciliary care worker for the past 4 years, previous to this residential care. I am also a support worker for adults with profound learning difficulties. I have all but given up on care work for the reasons highlighted above, now only occasionally covering for colleagues. It is not an income that can be relied upon and is often well below the minimum wage. I have now taken more support work where I am well paid for a set shift which can be planned more than a month in advance. Ironically this funding appears to come from the same sources that are so badly failing the elderly and their carers.

  7. Jane lunt
    Dec 21st 2014, 7:16 pm

    I too look after clients requiring care.
    Have been a carer for many years.
    We have not had a pay rise for 7 years and times are really difficult.
    We used to get a small incremental rise each year, but all that stopped 7 years ago.
    I carn’t imagine doing anything else and hope that one day soon carers will be given the respect that they deserve and this is reflected in their wage packet.

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