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: 

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


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

[2] and and 

Some documentaries worth checking out!

Here’s my pick of food-for-thought iplayer documentaries (and nothing about Trump or Brexit I promise! You can find quite enough about those without my help!). They’re all quite easy watching in fact.

The music industry

This is interesting whether you’re a Kate Nash fan or not (I wasn’t at all familiar with her work). She tells it she finds life in the cut-throat music industry, which can be pretty different to how most people imagine.

British woman who died fighting ISIS with a Kurdish militia

One of the most captivating documentaries I’ve ever seen.


Even if you already know a fair bit about Japan, this offers some in-depth coverage and some shocking revelations.

Photo by Walter Mario Stein on Unsplash Japanese woman in forest with umbrella


Man giving birth

Get up to speed on men who have transitioned from female who de-transition in order to give birth… a fascinating watch, though you may wish to skip the birth scenes if you’re not keen on such things! It’s not graphic but even so, the moaning isn’t for everyone…

Documentary criticising middle class behaviours

Goes into the lengths some parents go to get their kids into the schools they want, property development in London and such (the title is a bit click-bait-ish). Something a bit different…

Homophobia in football: getting rid of it

Homosexual rugby player Gareth Thomas goes on a mission to tackle homophobia in football… An interesting watch, whether you like football or not.


A committed carnivore tries veganism

Always enjoyable to see someone trying something totally foreign to them, with an open mind, and engaging with very different people in the same way.

America child brides

Unusual documentary on an issue that is rarely discussed… thought-provoking and at times shocking.

Syrians in a remote part of Scotland

Really interesting look at how Syrian refugees are finding their new life on a Scottish island.

The cam-girl industry

Pretty astounding revelations by owners of cam sites on a round-table discussion which includes a subscriber (ADULT only content)

Insightful post by Urspo on the usefulness of asking for help more, masculinity archetypes, and some tips: Spo-reflections on asking for help

I am not a fan of Robert Heinlein. There are many reasons for this but one of them is about the traits of his novels’ heroes. They are often ‘The self-sufficient man’. The fellows could do everything themselves thus never needing help from others. Mr. Heinlein extols his readers (mostly boys) to be likewise and he castigates thems who do not. […]

via Spo-reflections on asking for help. — Spo-Reflections

Now could be the time to let go of gender assumptions

When was the last time you said “well, that’s men for you!” or “oh, you know, women!!!”? Or something like “well, it’s a girl/guy thing…” I’m guessing probably not that long ago. Me too! It’s actually really difficult to avoid, even if you want to. Why? Well, it’s great for bonding with fellow men or women. It’s also an easy way to explain a difference between you and your partner without getting personal (“oh, you know, it’s a guy thing I think.”). It’s also habit, and often used humorously (“honestly, men and their toys!” etc.).  Common gender assumptions include: men are stronger than women; women are more empathetic than men; men are better at maths and women are more interested in relationships than casual sex. Now, I’m not saying that none of these hold some truth, even a great deal of truth in the first case. But what I’ve been wondering more and more in recent years is:

Are gender assumptions serving us well?

I think my trigger for considering this was a guy I dated who constantly challenged any gender assumptions I made: both literally in conversation and simply by being who he was. Gradually, I began to realise how unhelpful some of my gender assumptions had been. The main negatives are:

Harm to the men and women who don’t fit the assumption

This is a major one I think. It’s hard to find a gender assumption that will be true in 100% of cases (I challenge you! Comment below if you think you have one!). And for those who don’t fit the assumption, it can be tough: for the women who are great at IT but have to battle to be taken seriously, for the men with lower sex drives than their wives, for the women with no urge to have kids and for the men who love knitting. Being seen as the odd-one-out can be crushing, leaving people feeling ashamed of who they are and unable to talk freely with others about how they truly feel for fear of seeming abnormal. This has been discussed in a sexual context in the guest post on libido, where the common (but wrong) assumption remains that men are all highly sexualised and certainly more so than their girlfriends or wives [1]. A similarly crushing (and very common) assumption is that women all get broody and men generally don’t.

And, as the current climate also demonstrates, life is particularly tough for women trying to prove themselves in male-dominated fields such as science, the film industry, politics and business leadership. At every step they come up against assumptions that they are less worthy than men to be there and thus have to fight twice as hard. And yet there is no evidence that these particular women are not every bit as good as the men they are competing with (and trying to be paid as much as) – indeed, they may even be better.

It can be tough for women in male-dominated fields (such as engineering) when they constantly feel they have to prove themselves, due to the assumption that men are better at it.

Even if you believe that more men than women are better at maths, for example, that doesn’t mean that the female accountant doing your tax return is any less skilled than her male colleagues. And even if you believe that more women than men are interested in having children, that doesn’t mean that the woman you’re dating is necessarily going to be keen on the idea (nearly all of my boyfriends have assumed this and not thought to ask!). So, just how are those assumptions serving us when we can never know which men and women will actually fit with the assumption?

I guess at times gender assumptions can be helpful though. They might help English teachers pick a range of books that are likely to interest pupils of both genders more equally than if they’d given the matter no thought, for example. But for most of us, in everyday life, I don’t see that they’re very useful. 

Disagree? Comment below!

Perpetuating trends

Every time we make a comment in the form of a gender assumption, we contribute to its continuation. If you’re a man and you hear all the time that men enjoy porn, you’re likely to watch it and think you should enjoy it. If you’re a woman and you hear all the time that women are bad at parking, you may put down your errors to your gender instead of the potentially real cause of inexperience, lack of confidence or a stressful day. You may just let your husband park for you, whereas were the situation reversed, you can bet your bottom dollar your husband would be practising parking until he had it mastered! (Note to self: practice parallel parking!).

Self-confidence plays a large part in mastering most skills, and studies show that girls who were given (false) information about girls being less good at maths than boys actually performed less well in a maths test than the girls who hadn’t been shown that information! [2]

Pressure to conform stifles individuality and limits options

What most people want in life is to be accepted for who they truly are. What if we welcomed into our world, without even raising our eyebrows, the deeply empathetic men, the highly ambitious women, the men who love to sew, the women who love to code, the broody men, the sex-mad women, the boys who dress as princesses, the girls who love to play-fight, the men who aren’t strong, the women who are, the female welders, the male secretaries, the women with an interest in war memorabilia and the men who love romcoms… Just imagine how liberating life would be for all these people (and I guarantee they are out there!) if they didn’t have to worry about being judged or laughed at but instead if people just saw them and thought “well, everyone is different”. Because that, after all, is one undeniable fact.

girl in skate park
Imagine if we could all do and be what we wanted without gender assumptions getting in the way!


Without these assumptions, none of us would risk feeling like a cliché or a failed “gender rebel” either. It would be fine, as a woman, indeed a liberated, 21st-century woman, to be a stay-at-home mum, spending your free time making scented candles and having nights in with friends watching Dirty Dancing and drinking Prosecco, if you so wished.

Lately I’ve been trying to say what I like and don’t like, what I’m good at and not good at and what I want and don’t want from life, and not throw myself in with the vast group that is “women”. I’ve seen this trend growing in some of the podcasts I listen to as well, such as the Guilty Feminist podcast. To be honest, it feels much more truthful. Time and experience have revealed to me that women don’t all like the same books, films, clothes, partners and sexual practices. They aren’t all good at reading people or subtlety or being caring. They don’t all want children or rich husbands or non-stressful jobs. And men are equally diverse, even if they don’t necessarily reveal it to their male acquaintances. They don’t all like porn, action movies, fancy cars, no-fuss clothing and technology. They aren’t all good at parking, fixing things or being direct. And they don’t all want big houses, beautiful wives, lots of sex and a fridge full of beer (really!).

And if you go through life basing your decisions on these assumptions, you may well end up with pretty unhappy partners/children/employees/friends. Maybe now is the time to let go of our assumptions and just let people be who they are!

And you know what, we could all have more fun too. I’d like to know more about cars and football. Maybe if I did, I’d have new passions! Men also often tend to rule out a whole range of books and films that they might actually love. You could be missing out on discovering your ideal job because it’s not one you would feel respected, as a man/woman, doing. Why are we limiting ourselves in these ways?

Not ALL men want big houses, beautiful wives, lots of sex and a fridge full of beer!

I’m really happy that I grew up in a household where it was ok to like toy cars as well as dolls, to play at being a firefighter as well as a mum and to choose to study whatever I wanted. I’ve felt gloriously free to bend gender norms by playing rugby and darts, wearing men’s clothes and aftershave (occasionally) and owning a toolbox, which I use from time to time (thanks mum!). I want everyone to feel this liberated!

I still don’t quite feel free of gender expectations when it comes to sex and relationships, and talking about them with other people, but I’m getting there. And I’m still catching myself bolstering gender assumptions I don’t even believe in for the sake of group bonding, not disagreeing with someone or making things seem less personal but my challenge for 2018 is to do this much less. Anyone care to join me?

Share your thoughts below!


[1] e.g. see



See also Related Links

Related Links

The Guilty Feminist Podcast: Assumptions

Why I’m done trying to be ‘man enough’: YouTube TED talk by actor Justin Baldoni