Would UK care workers be so badly paid if most of them were men?

Just a thought that used to occur to me during my many years working in front-line care and support work. At the very least, all care workers should be paid the Real Living Wage – currently £9.00 per hour and £10.55 per hour in London.

Due in April 2019, the recently announced increase of the government’s Living Wage (which is not actually based on what employees and their families need to live, former chancellor George Osborne pulled a dishonest fast one there) to £8.21 per hour (which excludes workers under 25, age 21-24 workers will go up to £7.70 per hour) is NOT GOOD ENOUGH!

Care work is important and often very tough work. The people doing it need to be able to afford to live. Seems reasonable?

BUPA care homes – big profits, bad pay

BUPA Dean Wood, near Brighton. Lovely building, shame about the pay.

BUPA Dean Wood, near Brighton. Lovely £7 million building, shame about the pay for carers and nurses.

“This home is open to all”, says the message outside Dean Wood nursing home, a BUPA home just outside Brighton. At around £1000 per week, I think that really should be “all – who have quite a lot of money”, shouldn’t it?

Over the last two years, as an agency healthcare assistant (many people think that agency workers are often part of the problem of poor care but I do my best), I’ve worked at several BUPA care homes on a semi-regular basis in Sussex. All things considered, I thought the actual standard of care was pretty good in all of them. Would I be happy for a relative of mine to be in one of them – perhaps the ultimate test of what one really feels about a care home – yes, having seen a lot worse over the years, I probably would. But BUPA is a big organization with around 290 care homes, so it’s no surprise that not everyone has had the same experience or thinks the same, as this thread on Mumsnet shows. A quick browse of the thread shows many common general care home complaints from both employees and family members with relatives in BUPA homes.

The last I heard, regular BUPA carers in Sussex homes were on £6.57 per hour, which I was told at one home is less than the kitchen staff are paid. Qualified nurses are also paid poorly, below average. Not content with this though, the management had put “motivational” messages up on the walls of the staff room to remind everyone of a few things. I may not have the exact wording right but I remember posters along the lines of “BUPA is generating millions of pounds worth of business around the world” next to “BUPA staff are happy in their jobs”. Getting a bit 1984 or Brave New World with that last one aren’t they!? Not only is this massive multimillion international company only paying healthcare assistants close to the minimum wage, during staff tea breaks BUPA is reminding all the badly paid carers and nurses of the massive profits the company makes – talk about “rubbing your face in it”!

Not surprisingly, staff morale tends to be low in BUPA homes (as with quite a few nursing homes of course) and many carers – including very good ones – leave after a few months.

Why are care workers on the minimum wage?

Wayne Rooney, £1,785 per hour

Wayne Rooney, £1,785 per hour

With the announcement last week that Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney is about to earn £300,000 per week – that’s £1,785 per hour – my mind turned yet again to the low pay of care workers in the UK. Most of the ones I work with earn the minimum wage of £6.31 per hour or slightly more.

Professional footballer = £1,785 per hour.

Care worker = £6.31 per hour.

Am I missing something or is this complete, total and utter madness? Would care workers be so badly paid if most of them were men? Who cares for the carers, where is the public outrage? What kind of society are we living in that apparently accepts this situation?

I have worked with more than one Healthcare Assistant who has loved the job but has had to move on because of the bad pay – in one case to go and earn more on the checkouts in Tesco. By contrast, a small percentage of places pay their staff around £8 or more, as do care agencies who provide temporary staff such as myself. £8 per hour is closer to the so-called “living wage”, a strange concept, the obvious implication being that those on the lower “minimum wage” are not actually living! As you would expect, the staff are usually happier and far more settled when paid more, and the residents/patients receive a better standard of care.

Care worker, £6.31 per hour

Care worker, £6.31 per hour

Care work is considered unskilled, the implication being that anyone could do it. Is this actually the case? In my experience, work in nursing homes, NHS hospitals and the community can be physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually demanding in the extreme. There is often poo, vomit and blood to wipe up. At the risk of stating the obvious, sick and dying grandmothers and grandfathers are not always easy people. Almost superhuman patience is sometimes required.

The chances are that, one day, you will be one of the vulnerable and elderly being cared for by exhausted and underpaid carers.

I have heard that the situation is nothing like as bad in Scandinavia and many other countries. No remotely civilized and decent society would quietly allow such a situation to continue. Gavin Kelly, (chief executive of Resolution Foundation, an independent thinktank aiming to improve living standards for low to middle income families in the United Kingdom) has drawn attention to the fact that, due to not being paid for the time spent travelling between home visits, many carers are being paid even less than the minimum wage.

Professional footballer = £1,785 per hour.

Care worker = £6.31 per hour.