A carer’s tale
Please read my stories with an open mind and heart. I write these stories as entertainment and to record my stories as a carer not to blame or offend anyone.
I have been contemplating writing about this topic for over a year now that is when I started to work as a carer. My life style is rather sporadic so I needed a work that I can do between teaching and training jobs. Not as if caring was not a noble job to do but at times it is daunting and underappreciated. It seems to me that caring is a ‘profession’ that is mostly done but professionals of other trades. Over the past year, I have met teachers, child care workers, engineers, economists, etc. Most of them do care work as a best alternative. They do not seem to find a satisfactory position in their field of interest or they are between jobs, like myself.
I intend to give an account of what it is like for me to work through an agency and the kind of customers I work with.
I first worked as a carer some 15 years ago. I fall into the job by accident. A family friend asked me to take care of an old gentleman who had severe dementia and stage 4 prostate cancer, if I remember correctly. He must have been in his late 70’s or early 80’s. The family decided against Jack receiving any therapy. They wanted him to have fun rather than suffering the side effects of different therapies. So, the family asked me to move in with him and take care of him until he would need to go to hospital. I remember, I stayed with him for months. My job was to make sure he had fun. There were only two things he could enjoy though: food and music. So, we had lots of those! We went around London town and checked out most of the lunch time concerts or places where they played music while we ate. Apart from the fun stuff, I was to make sure that he was clean and dressed properly. My evenings and some of my weekends were off when the family took over. I was studying at the time so it was a great arrangement.
Since, I get along very well with the elderly, I often found myself in on-and-off caring positions, until I joined a caring company in the UK in 2016.
My experience of the company (companies) and the job
My first attempt joining a company was rather unsuccessful, I did not last the training. Both the training material and the trainer seemed overly rigid and reprimanding. I felt like a school kid who was threatened to be thrown out. The material we were presented focused mostly on what could go wrong, in what ways we are liable and what our responsibilities are that were mostly making sure that our client was physically safe.
I was deadly bored during the training. Though it had some practical parts to it, most of the long hours (9-5) we spent sitting in a badly lit room with fellow novices listening to someone talking. It turned out that I did not have the right attitude for the job.
My first observation upon getting involved with the second agency which I eventually joined was how professionally they can cover up some rather badly organized and managed work. By now I understand that this is the case basically with any care-work companies. There are many reasons behind the lack of organisation and seeming carelessness, one of them is that they are extremely understaffed.
In my observation, the company’s single focus is on being in alignment with government’s health and safety regulations no matter how impractical they may be. Unfortunately, that makes the company look uncaring mostly towards its employees and also to its customers.
I think that until people are more important than rules the problems – some of them described in this article – will not be resolved.
I believe that the main reason why this profession lacks well-trained professionals is because both the job and the employees are underappreciated. Most people outside of this industry think that carers are basically overpaid cleaners. The fact is that most of the live-in carers are not particularly well-educated foreigners. Still I have met many who were over-qualified for the job.
I often feel that live-in carers are disdained. But we should not forget that they are responsible for the well-being of a person 24 hours a day. A huge responsibility!
According to work regulations live-in carers officially make themselves available to their customers 13 hours a day, from 7am till 10pm with a 2-hour break. They are asked to actually work only 8 hours a day out of the 15 which is impossible since one cannot refuse an old lady/gentleman to get to the toilet because her/his request comes after the 8-working-hour cap.
Health and safety fails right there.
Many carers work between 4-6 weeks without a single day off with only 2 hours a day to themselves. Occasionally, there are more than one person to care for that makes it rather hard to relieve one’s duties even for those two hours a day. It is not a glorious job to clean someone’s bum 3 times a day but none of us do it for the glory, anyway.
The money. We are paid approximately 5.70 GBP an hour, the minimum wage. We work 13 hrs a day. The way the agencies get away with is that they ask their employees to sign a document that says that I am OK with working more than 8 hours a day if needed. The reason why we are not paid for the night shift is that seemingly we stay in the house of the client for the night because we cannot go home.
So why do it then, you may us. Well, what this job gives us, however, apart from a reliable income is the freedom of the freelancer. Though the company registers us as full time workers we actually work with a rota. You go into an assignment for 4-6 weeks than you can take a few weeks off and do what you like. This job allows one to attend a part-time course, save up for a great journey around the globe or pay for a dream venture you have had for a long time but you could never realize it while in a 9-5 job.