Many young disabled and those who are older and living with disabilities and/or long-term health conditions rely on heroic armies of carers who visit their homes to carry out tasks the individual can no longer do for themselves.
This low-paid and often under-valued body of staff help the NHS by keeping individuals at home. They often don’t know what they are going to face when opening the door, from changing someone who is wet, who will require a shower and their bedclothes changing and washing, to feeding, giving medication and shopping for clients or taking decisions as to whether it is still safe for the individual to remain at home.
Care by its very nature is up close and very personal, with no opportunities to distance themselves from Covid-19. Take feeding someone for instance, the time and care it takes, yet many care workers still don’t have the right personal protection equipment (PPE).
Not only are carers having to put themselves and as a result their families at risk, but if they become infected then it is possible that a sizeable amount of these frail and vulnerable clients and families will also be at risk.
This lack of PPE is an insight into how carers are protected generally. Care staff are helping the most vulnerable in society but despite hard, physical and emotionally challenging work, they are often either on the minimum wage or on lower than the minimum wage, when costs such as transport between jobs, or uniforms are not covered by pay.
When we as a country recover, it is time care workers are put on a par with nurses and district nurses, and as such receive accredited training and a salary to match the level of training reached and experience.
They are making life and death decisions every day and for that they should be recognised. Union representation and a body representing care workers should be established, that will fight for members no matter how private or small their agency might be.
As we look at the condition for care workers it is only right and just that the care given by family members is also recognized and rewarded.
Quality training should be offered to them free of charge, to skill them up in areas which might be needed, such as dealing with medication or challenging behaviour as well as providing opportunities to meet other carers in the same position.
Family carers provide a service to our society as a whole, lessening the impact on the NHS, which is for the good of us all, so we must ensure that they not only have PPE for this period of time, but also long-term protection for their finances (carers allowance is just a pittance) and emotional support.
Abuse can unfortunately happen to those who are vulnerable in whatever setting, but if staff are stressed through a lack of time, a lack of respect, a lack of decent pay and quality training, we are increasing the potential for such abuse.
Only by ‘care’ being treated as a proper profession, requiring training and experience, do we lessen the likelihood of unsuitable people joining the profession, people taking up jobs they don’t intend to stay in for long, or putting caring individuals in such tricky situations they snap.
The lack of PPE for care workers reveals the lack of investment in them as members of staff and in the sector as a whole, both formal and informal. We should take the opportunity while we are in lockdown for COVID-19 to consider what a care sector should look like in the 21st Century as we try to meet the requirements of our changing population.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) have projected that by 2031 the UK population will reach 70 million. Over the next 25 years those over the age of 85 are set to almost double due to the post-war baby boom.
Alongside an ageing population we also know that many more people are now surviving longer with more challenging and complex conditions due to the advances in treatment from the NHS.
This means that no more should carers be the unseen and less protected members of our social and NHS care, but be placed on a par with others in the NHS carrying out similar work.