Carers working within the home care sector have unforgivably poor employment conditions. Pay from many companies is barely above the minimum wage, they aren’t paid for travel, they are generally on “if & when” type contracts and they have little or no opportunity to advance.
This then in turn means that carer retention by many companies is very poor and there is a significant turnover of staff, which has a huge knock-on effect in many cases on the quality of care being provided, as well as the capacity available to look after our increasing older and disabled population.
However, there is also another equally important consequence of these practices, which is to discriminate against women and further exasperate the inequalities between the sexes so prevalent in our society.
Home carers are made up overwhelmingly by women. It is seen as a female career. Not only that, many of the women come from a lower socio-economic background and from a lower educational background, so there is a double discrimination going on.
During this pandemic, I think it is fair to say that it is women and the so called “female jobs” who have really stepped up to the plate as carers, nurses, home educators, child minders and cashiers. These female careers are nearly always low paid and certainly undervalued. That is, until we face a crisis as we have now and suddenly, we are forced to recalibrate in our minds what work is truly important and contributes to a better society.
While women have quietly gone about making us safe and this crisis bearable, men have opined, advised, critiqued and decided, in our media and in our political circles.
Improving the conditions of employment within the home care sector not only is the right thing to do but it would also have a hugely beneficial effect on closing the gap of inequality between the sexes. If caring was a male dominated career would it be so badly paid?
The home care sector also has another in built issue that leads to discrimination against women, in that a lot of home care is delivered in the cash economy, making women even more vulnerable, with no access to social welfare or other state supports.
By significantly improving what carers earn and by putting more control in their hands through for example, personal budgets and direct payments, we are also improving the situation of women generally. Making home care packages available in the guise of personal budgets and direct payments helps to turn carers into mini entrepreneurs, not beholden to a limited list of approved corporate providers, who often don’t value them. It would also go a long way to removing the incentives for cash payments within the sector and the vulnerability for women, that spawns.
If conditions of employment are to be improved within the sector and the position of women strengthened, then more funding must find its way into carers pockets and not leaked to corporate bottom lines.
If this crisis has taught us one thing, it is surely that we need to re-evaluate the worth of these “female jobs” and maybe with a wider perspective, the prevalence of typically female attributes in our society as a whole, of caring, empathy, practicality, cooperation, multi-tasking and love.