It’s time to give more value (and pay) to care workers and cleaners 

I actually wrote this post before the covid-19 pandemic, but it feels more relevant than ever. Clapping is all very well, but shouldn’t we be paying them more?  

I heard that there are moves to pay NHS workers more, but many (possibly most) care workers and cleaners are employed by agencies or are self-employed.  

Covid-19 has actually brought to people’s attention the valuable work of carers and the risks they take. Evidently cleaning, too, has a greater importance in a pandemic, especially cleaning of care homes and hospitals with anti-viral products. But these workers are valuable all the time, not just in a pandemic.  

Nearly everyone needs a cleaner or care worker at some point in their lives 

It’s not much fun to think about, but usually in old age, if not before, we all need help.  So, everyone should be interested in the quality of care and cleaning that is available for selfish reasons if nothing else.  

carer and patient at seadisde-bruno-aguirre-unsplash
Image by Bruno Aguirre from Unsplash

Cleaning and caring aren’t really unskilled 

A general excuse for low wages for cleaners and carers is that it is unskilled. To be honest, I don’t think many people who’ve used a range of cleaners and carers would agree. Almost anyone can have a go at cleaning or care work, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be any good. A good cleaner knows how to listen well to the client’s wishes, to work efficiently, not be too clumsy and use products and tools of the trade well. Inexperienced cleaners often use products inappropriately, break things and don’t leave the house clean and looking good. Cleaners with poor English/interpersonal skills don’t follow your instructions and can be really frustrating. As for carersa good carer has a pleasant and kind manner, follows instructions well (using at least a reasonable level of intelligence and common sense) and has a gentle touch. Both need to be reliable and punctual. I imagine au pairs and childcare workers are another group that is often seen as unskilled but surely looking after someone’s children is a very important job indeed?  

I think it would be a good idea for there to be NVQs or other qualifications in cleaning because I really don’t think anyone can do it just like that and it would help identify the committed ones and give the vocation more status. NVQs could also be used more regularly when hiring care workers, whereas currently usually no qualification is required [1].  

The current situation is that a large number of cleaners and carers are not committed to their work, don’t feel valued, don’t do a good job and are only doing it temporarily. Clients are therefore often frustrated and having to regularly hire new ones as workers move on or are no good. Some people even give up and end up doing the cleaning themselves because they couldn’t find anyone good, or go without the homecare they need.  

gumpy cleaner-pixabay
Many cleaners are not happy with the conditions and are only in the role temporarily, which isn’t good for either party. Image by pezezzle from Pixabay

Caring for the vulnerable is really important, and not easy 

Everyone gets old. And very often when you get old, you need some help. The last thing anyone wants when they’re vulnerable and having to accept help is uncaring, unreliable, rough, lazy or rushed carers. We should be valuing care workers more than bankers, lawyers, builders, software developers, accountants, TV producers and reality TV stars. Care workers are helping people with their most vital needs – eating, dressing, washing, leaving the house… And yet councils are only willing to pay care agencies around £16 an hour to do this, which often means the care workers get paid around minimum wage once you factor in travel time between service users and petrol [1].   

I’m not a care worker myself but I imagine looking after service users who might have dementia or a complex physical or mental disability can be challenging and require training as well as a calm, patient, caring nature and good problem-solving skills. And then there’s end-of-life care, which obviously requires emotional resilience as well.  

Bad care can even result in death of a client in the worst-case scenario.  

Calling care work unskilled is nothing more than an excuse to continue underpaying the care workers.   

Tough working conditions 

I was quite horrified to learn that care workers in one of the major care firms in my area regularly work from around 7am to 11pm, having to be at work again at 7am the next day, often working 50+ hours a week. In addition to this, they are often not given enough time to travel between clients and rotas are often supplied only the night before, and often changed at the last minute. Some are on zero-hour contracts. Empty time between clients, even if it’s just half hours here and there that you can’t really use for anything, are unpaid. I honestly don’t know how people cope with this kind of working pattern, and am not surprised most seem to aspire to changing their career path. Fortunately not all care companies operate like this, but it seems quite common in care companies that are used by the council, no doubt partly due to the hourly rate limit being too low.  

And personal care (e.g. dealing with toilet needs) isn’t always the most enjoyable task, and surely should deserve extra pay and credit. 

As for cleaners, those working in offices, hospitals and nightclubs are often required to work extremely antisocial hours, such as the very early morning, and should be recognised for this in their pay and conditions.  

worker ant-pixabay
Cleaning and care work can be physically and mentally very hard work. Image from Pixabay

Workers who aren’t valued generally don’t value their jobs 

As a result of this, care workers and cleaners are usually only doing the job temporarily. This causes inconsistency for clients and the constant need for care agencies/individuals to be recruiting and training new staff. It makes me sad that care workers and cleaners often want to start a retail business or get an office job because they don’t feel valued or adequately paid in their current positions.  

Time for a change! 

Let’s celebrate our care workers and cleaners, pay them more, be fussy about their skills and experience, and create more efficiency, safety and fulfilment for everyone! 

line of speedy cleaners adli-wahid-unsplash
Feel like this photo celebrates cleaners as they look epic – nice work Adli Wahid on Unsplash!

What can I do? 

If you hire a cleaner or care worker, pay them as much as you can afford and not as much as you can get away with (if they are self-employed, bear in mind that about half of their hourly rate might go on expenses/holiday/sick pay/NI and tax/travel time and unwanted breaks between jobs). 

Contact your local MP about the issue – if you don’t have much time, maybe just tweet or email them this post!  

Sign and share this petition: https://www.change.org/p/uk-parliament-pay-all-key-workers-at-least-15-an-hour 

Be prepared to pay more tax to fund better pay for council-funded care 

If you have a friend or acquaintance doing one of these jobs, you can always do your best to make them know you think it’s an important and skilled job to have. 

 I would love to hear your thoughts!  

cleaner waving-mop over-=head-pixabay
Image from Pixabay

References 

[1] Based on the adverts regularly featured in my local paper by various care companies 

[2] https://www.payscale.com/research/UK/Job=Care_Worker/Hourly_Rate and https://www.litrg.org.uk/tax-guides/disabled-people-and-carers/caring-someone/issues-facing-paid-care-workers and https://www.homecare.co.uk/news/article.cfm/id/1605174/Most-home-care-workers-are-paid-less-than-minimum-wage 

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