Zero hours and non-payment of the minimum wage , by way of non-payment of travel time. Well that seems to sum up the majority of home care providers in the UK right now. Over the past year I have heard a lot of people talk about these subjects. Politicians, journalists, leading world thinkers.
Mainly zero hours as it would appear no one seems prepared to address national minimum wage laws. No one seems to have the answer.
I’ve heard people talk statistics, budgets , profit margins and targets. But I see these problems from a different level – ground level. I have worked in homecare for almost 20 years and have seen a decline in the quality of care being provided, as huge private equity firms have been able to take control of the sector, and drive down the cost of care to almost unattainable levels. I have witnessed huge staff turnover caused by poor terms and conditions and also abuse and neglect of those receiving care as it has become acceptable to employ people with little or no experience to cope with the increasing demand.
When I talk zero hours and non-payment of travel time I talk about people I have met, people let down by our fundamentally broken system of care. Experienced staff forced to leave because they simply can’t afford to stay. Those receiving care accepting undignified substandard care and the lack of continuity that means they never know who is coming into their home to provide the most intimate personal care.
I could stand here and quote statistics and budgets but I can’t – I don’t understand them. What I do understand is people, what I do understand is care.
That is why I wanted to share an experience I had that I think sums up the problems within the current home care system. An experience that essentially continues to drive me.
I met a lovely man I’m going to call George. George had very complex needs and was unable to carry out even the simplest of tasks without support. I only met George occasionally, when his regular carer was off. They had been together a long time , George and his family were confident in her ability to provide him with quality care.
Suddenly George’s carer started losing hours , those hours being replaced by 15/20 minute calls , 10 -15 miles away. She was paying more for petrol than she was able to earn. The last time we spoke she was broken , struggling to provide for her family. Then she simply left.
Her crime and the reason she was being punished this way was that she dared to challenge that organisation about the quality of care they were providing.
I started to pick up a few more calls at Georges house , immediately I was concerned about the quality of care being provided. There was no continuity – George had different carers daily. Often people didn’t turn up and on several occasions George was left in bed for up to 20 hours. Times they did arrive they often forgot to give him food , drinks, medication. And more often than not they would forget to open the blinds , turn the TV and heating on. George simply couldn’t do these things alone. I and Georges family repeatedly reported concerns. I begged them to give staff details of his needs, but nothing changed. I asked to be George’s carer but they said no !
I started to drive by George’s house about 10.30 every day, if the blinds were closed I would call the office explain I was aware of the problems in his house and could I just pop in and check on him. Usually he was sitting staring at the walls with no tv or heating on. Sometimes he hadn’t had any food or drinks, many times he had no medication. Each time I reported what I had found and begged them to make sure it didn’t happen again.
This continued for several weeks until I called in and requested to go in and check as I had done many times before. I was told no, I couldn’t go in and it was none of my business anymore. I felt the fight being kicked out of me- what more could I do?
Just a few weeks later someone called in sick and I was asked to cover a lunch call at George’s house. I arrived at the same time as his son. By now George’s family were so concerned at the quality of care being provided they had started to take it in turns to take time out of work around lunch time each day , just to make sure he had been cared for.
As we walked in to the house I was struck by how cold it was. It was January and there was snow outside , there was no heating on and all of the internal doors were wide open.
What I saw next will stay with me forever. George was sitting visibly shaking, he was wearing a t-shirt, his skin was grey from the cold. George was wet , a doubly incontinent man , staff had failed to provide him with a pad.
The blinds were shut, the TV was off and the lights were off. George hadn’t had anything to eat or drink , he hadn’t had any medication.
Cold, wet, hungry, alone in the dark – just waiting for someone to help.
I was angry, upset, annoyed , with the person who had left him to suffer like this, with the organisation who had failed to listen to my concerns, with the system of care that is so underfunded and undervalued this so called care has become accepted by many.
Mostly I was upset angry and annoyed with myself. I allowed that organisation to knock the fight out of me – essentially I allowed that situation to continue.
However guilty I may have felt and still feel , I know that wasn’t my fault.
There were 3 key point which lead to George’s suffering,
Zero hour contracts and their use by way of punishment and reward.
Unpaid travel time, Georges carer simply couldn’t afford to stay.
The lack of regulations for employing care staff which mean its acceptable to employ anyone to care for our most vulnerable.
I made a promise that day , I promised George and his family I was going to fight ot ensure this never happened again.
I only hope that by sharing my experience I can get the support of others to help me keep my promise.
Written by a home carer who wishes to remain anonymous.