The social care system is broken. This is a branch of our welfare state that is propped up by a mixture of local authority funding, the NHS, private agencies and service-users who are hit with huge bills for their care. This system relies on a workforce of low-paid, zero hours workers who leave the job more rapidly than the positions can be filled. At any one time, there are 77,000 vacant care positions. This is a system in which gums are left to grow around dentures and rubbing Sudocrem onto the dermatitis of an 85-year-old becomes like second nature, because the last carer forgot to change their incontinence pad.
I was a carer for an agency, and now work privately as a carer and PA. I have helped someone pass through this life, unable to help them move into a more comfortable position, because my agency had not been given the funding by NHS end of life care to provide two carers. I have had to get an elderly service-user with dementia get dressed, eat breakfast, wash, take their medication and have their pressure sores tended to within 15 minutes, because that is the funding the local authority would provide. I have been to the houses of adults with no furniture, undressed wounds and dirty living conditions because community care as we know it is coming apart at the seams.
In my job I have been sexually harassed, inappropriately touched by service-users and cornered by their family members. I have worked fifteen-hour shifts knowing I would only get paid for ten of those hours, alongside single mothers who had been bullied by our managers into taking on extra service-users because there had been another wave of carers quitting. Investing in the care system will ease a few immediate pressures temporarily, but it won’t solve the heart of the problem. Capitalism and neoliberalism have no space for care, for disabled people, or the elderly, or those it deems not productive. Capitalism and neoliberalism do not ascribe value to care work because it is affect labour; it is labour primarily delegated as ‘women’s work’ and is treated as such.
We have 77,000 spare posts because zero-hour contracts with unpaid travel time and the promise of a rewarding job do not pay bills. Splitting up people’s care needs into 15-minute time slots remove their needs from the equation entirely. Care becomes a clock watching 20km trek every day, chugging water and eating a cereal bar on your way to your 15th service-user that day for a 15-minute, £2.50 worth of work. Working in care becomes fitting sex work in at night after you’ve finished your shift, because your wages aren’t enough to make ends meet and never would have been in the first place.
The reason institutional abuses occur so frequently within the adult social care system is as such; squeezed enough, stressed enough, people no longer see the impact or value of their work. Crucially in this context, carers are squeezed enough they can no longer afford to care. We do not have a care system which is fit for purpose, because the people who ascribe value to labour have not deemed the people we care for as being valuable beyond the potential pay check their vulnerability offers. A privatised system run by business managers with no lived experience of care absolves the government of responsibility and feeds into a wider trend of disabled people being increasingly at the mercy of private service providers.
Sometimes care work is the simple act of helping someone drink when they themselves cannot. Sitting next to someone who knows they’re dying and just sitting. Sitting with each other staring out the window at the sea, knowing you can’t move them into a more comfortable position because the care agency couldn’t get the long-promised second carer approved by funders. Care work is vital and it is indescribable. I love my job, and I know it can be different.