My name is Rita and I’m a Care Worker. I have different names – some call me a carer or a home carer, Maude at number 9 calls me her ‘girl,’ Nancy at number 15 just calls me ‘you,’ Richard (that’s my son) calls me Mum and Tim – he’s my husband or used to be – he never calls me anything because he never calls.
I’ve been doing this job for 12 years now. I’ve always worked for the same company – it’s an agency but I won’t tell you the name in case I get into trouble. It’s a big one though; they have a lot of offices and I expect they make a lot of money although I don’t see very much of it.
I get paid 7.60 per hour or 3.80 for half an hour or 1.90 for quarter of an hour. I’m not well-off.
I get paid by the hour; actually that’s not quite true – if I do an hour I get paid for an hour but if I do half an hour I get paid for half an hour and if I do a quarter of an hour (I do a lot of those) I get paid for a quarter of an hour. So you could say I get paid by the quarter hour. Actually, that’s not true either; I really get paid by the minute; if I do 14 minutes I get paid for 14 minutes and if I do 29 minutes I get paid for 29 minutes.
Who’d invent something like that in 2016? Who’d pay someone by the minute?
I learnt something the other day. The payment is calculated by a computer and the computer has to be programmed so it knows what to do. If the time that I log is 13 minutes and 29 seconds, I get paid for 13 minutes but if it’s 13 minutes and 31 seconds I get paid for 14 minutes. So you could say I get paid by the second. Even during the worst times in the cotton mills in the 19th century I don’t think people were paid by the second.
My visits are capped. That means if I’m given a 15 minute visit I won’t get paid for 16 minutes if I log out then, I’ll only get paid to a maximum of 15. So if I do 11 minutes I’ll get paid for 11 minutes, if I do 11’29” I’ll get 11, if I do 12’31” I’ll get 13 but if I do 15’31” I’ll get 15. It’s complicated.
Like I say I’ve been there for 12 years but I only found this out a few months ago. They don’t really tell you stuff like that. They do give you training though. I know how to use a hoist and recognise a pressure sore and I could clean your bum for you or make you some tea or tidy your bed and I can clean your teeth for you and give you a bath and put your shoes and socks on for you and I can hold your hand when you cry and help you with your medication and I know all about the Mental Capacity Act and I know how to raise a safeguarding alert and I can talk to you when your family ignores you. So I’ve had a lot of training.
I didn’t use to be paid by the second. I used to be paid for an hour or half an hour or quarter of an hour, it was called planned time. So the agency gave you those times to do and you got a time sheet from the Service User and that’s what you got paid. Sometimes you stayed a bit longer because they needed you and sometimes you left a bit earlier because they didn’t need you but it all evened out in the end and everyone was happy. Except the big bosses and the Councils who introduced electronic logging – computer says no.
Now my pay is calculated according to the times that I log in and out. When I get to the Service User’s home I have to use their telephone to dial a number and that records the time I arrived and then when I leave I call again and that records the time I finished and that’s how I now get paid – by the second.
When I say Service User I mean the person I’m helping – sometimes they’re called clients or customers or I call them Mrs Smith or Mrs Brown (if that’s their name obviously) or Maude or Nancy or Albert if they want me to call them by their first name which many do. The agency did start calling them ‘person we support’ for some reason (probably invented by some Social Worker) so we don’t have a Service User Guide anymore we have a Person we Support Guide which I think is silly to be honest and so do the Service Users or clients or customers but nobody asks my opinion so I keep it to myself.
Anyway, sometimes the phone doesn’t work or someone’s using it or the Service User doesn’t have a phone or they have a mobile and then I have to get a time-sheet signed. I write down the times that I worked but I round it up a bit and I don’t put the seconds in. I don’t think that’s cheating. Do you? Well maybe just a little bit. But I do think it’s a bit unfair if I get to someone’s house at 9am because it can take them time to answer the door and then I like to say hello and everything before making my phone call so I don’t log in until 9.06 or 9.07 or 9.10 sometimes but I don’t get paid for that time which I don’t think is very fair and as I say I’m not well-off.
I don’t have set hours of work and I don’t have a salary. I work when I work and I don’t work when I don’t work and I get paid when I work and I don’t get paid when I don’t work. I think it’s called a zero hours contract and I’ve seen a lot of people going off on the news that it’s bad but really I don’t mind. Like I say I’ve been working here for 12 years and I do pretty much the same hours every week so I don’t mind really. People say it’s hard to get a mortgage and stuff when you work zero hours but a house where I live is over £500000 so I can’t see me getting a mortgage anytime soon. I’m not well-off.
I do a lot of 15 minute visits. I hate them and the Service Users mostly don’t like them but what can you do? I don’t decide. The agency doesn’t decide either, it’s the Council and the Social Workers, they decide on the visits. You can’t do much in 15 minutes although I do my best. Sometimes I think the Service Users tell the Social Workers they’re more capable than they really are because they’re proud and don’t like having the help. And I don’t think the Social Workers realise how long it takes to boil a kettle or make a sandwich or have a wee and that people have good days and bad days. On a good day the visit might take 15 minutes but on a bad day it takes 20 minutes but I only get paid for 15. And I can’t leave after 15 minutes if the Service User is sitting on a commode, can I? I mean how would that look in the Daily Mail?
The Social Workers aren’t bad people I’m sure and I don’t think the Council is either. I mean they do their best like we all do. But it’s all budgets and cost and austerity and tightening our belts and there’s only a limited amount of money and so many people who need help and the elastic is stretched really thin and one day it’ll snap and hit someone in the face and that’s really going to hurt. But it does seem as if my belt and the Service User’s belts are pulled a bit tighter than the fat cats in the Government.
They (that’s the agency) send me a rota every week. I wish they’d send it on a Wednesday so I could make plans but usually it’s on a Thursday and quite often it’s Friday and sometimes it’s Saturday or even Sunday. That’s annoying when that happens but the agency doesn’t operate for my benefit. They say they operate for the benefit of the Service Users but they don’t really. It’s for them. I’m lucky because my rota doesn’t change all that much; for about 3 months I’ve had a steady round so I see pretty much the same people at pretty much the same times so that’s nice.
Last week they were short of staff so I did extra visits which was nice because I needed the money; Richard needed new shoes and my phone’s been playing up. You use your phone a lot in this job to phone the office and stuff – and I have to pay for the calls which annoys me as well. Did I say I’m not well-off? I thought Richard’s Dad might pay for his shoes but that was never really going to happen. Let’s be honest; men are useless. Anyway I worked Saturday and Sunday. It’s the same money. It didn’t used to be; you used to get more for working at the week-end but then they said it was a 7 day service and the Council didn’t pay any extra for Saturday or Sunday so there was no extra money any more for us. Which I thought was wrong if I’m honest but what do I know? The junior doctors are up in arms about being offered a flat rate for working at week-ends and they seem to be getting a lot of support but I don’t remember anyone gave a toss about my money being cut down. No-one cares about carers. We work at the week-end and in the evenings late at night putting people to bed and at night too but the agency doesn’t; they just have someone on-call to deal with emergencies. I never really understood that. It’s a 24 hour service where they work 9 to 5 while the rest of us are working all hours – I mean that’s not fair is it?
If you’re a Service User and you need help getting out of bed then you need that help 7 days a week don’t you? Mind you, they’re trying to do that with the health service, turn it into a 7 day service, aren’t they. But if it’s a 7 day service everyone has to work 7 days; there’s no point the doctors working 7 days if you can’t find a porter to wheel the patient down to theatre. And they’ll struggle to discharge more patients at the week-end when there’s such a shortage of Care Workers to take on the extra work.
But the big thing that annoys me is travel time or more specifically, not being paid for it. I said that I get paid by the minute so if I have a visit that is supposed to start at 10 for 15 minutes and the next visit starts at 10.30 for 15 minutes and the next visit starts at 11 and so on then I’ve ‘worked’ from 10 – 11 i.e. 1 hour but I’ve only been paid for 30 minutes. And I’ve earned 3.80 for that hour. Now you can see why I’m not well-off.
Now, granted, sometimes the Service Users live next door to each other or they’re in an Extra Care scheme or sheltered housing and travel time is virtually non-existent but that doesn’t happen very often. I asked the agency about it once and they said they used an average travel time of 5 minutes between visits. I asked them whose average was that because it wasn’t mine and they said it was an average they used and it was worked out by the computer. I bet that computer has never been a Care Worker.
I read somewhere that this is a breach of minimum wage regulations and I need to look into that. The agency said that they comply with minimum wage rules but they would say that, wouldn’t they.
I was working with a woman the other day who told me she was working illegally. Why would she tell me that? I’ve a good mind to dob her in but she’s a good worker and we need the staff. She said her passport was forged but it was a good one and no-one could tell and she used that to get her other documents. She said she was able to apply for a DBS check with those documents and told the agency her passport was with the immigration people and so they applied for her DBS. I can’t see the point of a DBS on someone who’s only been in the country a few weeks; it seems to me that if you get a DBS on someone who’s just arrived here then it’s bound not to show any convictions. But that’s this mad system we have; to work in home care you have to have a DBS; never mind whether it’s worth having or not. She told me she knows loads of people who have forged documents but the agency was desperate for staff and if they got rid of them there wouldn’t be enough people to cover the visits.
Most of the Care Workers are middle aged and black, mostly African and the rest are from Eastern Europe. There’s hardly any white people and almost no-one under 25. I don’t know why young white people don’t go into care work – well I do; who wants to be paid 7.60 an hour or less to clean someone’ s bum when they could be folding jumpers in Top Shop or listening for the ping from the Tesco bar-code reader. But it is a shame. It’s better than being unemployed, isn’t it? But maybe they don’t think so; that idiot Tim seems happy enough to be unemployed.
I’ll probably do this for the rest of my life. I can’t see me retiring for a long while yet and what else can I do after all? I’m the bum clean woman and there’s plenty more like me working, but what happens after we’re gone?
Maude shouted at me today. Actually she shouts at me every day.
‘Girl,’ she shouts, ‘where’s my tea?’
I know it’s hard for her – she’s 89 now and can’t see very well and she’s not very mobile and she’s diabetic and none of her family visit any more so she gets lonely but I often think ‘I’m all you’ve got, why don’t you be nice to me?’ I don’t expect much, I don’t think I’m greedy but I do like people to be polite and civil – that’s a good word, civil, but I’m going to say something which might be a bit controversial and get me into trouble, but the sad fact is that some old people just aren’t very nice. There, I’ve said it. And they probably never were very nice – all that happened was they got old but it doesn’t change your personality. I hope I’m nice to people when I get old and need care, that’s if there’s any Care Workers left by then which there probably won’t be.