Imagine working 60 hours per week and being classified under the law as something other than a worker. No rights, no proper remuneration.
When the factories of the North of England were exposed as paying workers under £4 an hour, MP’s lined up on the lawns of the UK Parliament to decry worker exploitation – but the reality is that MP’s are OK with worker exploitation so long as it is state-sponsored.
The average full-time unpaid carer is paid £116 per week between carers allowance, and either Universal Credit and Income Support. In order to even qualify for carers allowance, you require to be providing care for a minimum of 35 hours per week. On what planet is that not a condition of employment? Planet UK.
You see, the legislation underpinning carers allowance defines it as an allowance, not a benefit. This means that the Government and Parliament define carers as less than workers, and even benefits claimants in order to deprive them of the same worker’s rights as their public and private sector counterparts – and deprive them they do.
While ultimately I feel sorry for those who are out of work due to disability and due to redundancy, carers have been consistently ignored. Over 1/4 of carers weren’t even afforded the £20 COVID uplift despite their costs going up exponentially during this pandemic. Carers are the lowest paid benefit claimants in the country.
By comparison, carers are paid on average 1300 euro per month.
But it’s not just remuneration that’s the problem and I want to take a moment to describe my experiences of being a carer over the space of 10 years.
Politicians talk the talk about the mental welfare of carers, but the reality is that they don’t walk the walk. When you’ve paid for your food and your bills as a carer, you’re pretty much wiped out. If you happen to be a carer who has to deal with the more intimate needs of a person (personal care) due to substantive disability, your job comes with it the requirement of PPE as a matter of course. A change of gloves to prepare the food, a change of gloves to wash the person, a change of gloves to deal with other intimate needs, a change of gloves to dispense medication.
A private or public sector carers under the law doesn’t usually have the legal authority to dispense medication to someone, so as an unpaid carer, you actually find your role being more akin to a grade 6 nurse in a hospital. Food, medication, personal care, medical observations.
The difference is you don’t get to go home at night and forget about your work. Your home and your work are the same places.
Sure, you might be awarded some form of assistance from the local council, but if that comes in the form of Self Directed Support, a scheme whereby you choose who you want to look after the person, there are pitfalls to that. Say you have been assessed for two days of care. Well, the first thing you realise is that it isn’t actually two days – it’s two shifts from 10 to 5. Then they assess you at the level they pay their own employees. The typical private paid carer is paid around £9 an hour directly, but to hire in a care company you are talking £16 an hour easy. That’s you down to one shift. Then of course if the person is substantively disabled, it may require two carers to move them. Now you’re down to half a shift. There’s not much you can do with 4.5 hours per week.
There is the other side of the coin though, where personal care of the person is dealt with for you. You’ll be assessed for 4 appointments of an hour each. Where they come in during the day to feed and dress the person. But the other 20 hours, they are all down to you.
Imagine being on call and working 20 hours a week with no backup. Imagine if the care company screws up and has no one to send, you are classified as their backup. You sleep when you can, often in 30-minute snippets.
If the person you care for is bedbound, you are required to get up and rotate them every 2 hours to prevent pressure sores and the likes. You can’t ever miss a time slot to do this, the results could be catastrophic.
You have nowhere to retreat to, to decompress. Your home is your work. A friend will ask you – would you like to go out this weekend? – your answer is always no. The reason is that you have no time to yourself, and even if you did, the fact that you have such a low income would always preclude you from being able to go out.
The entire mechanism of unpaid carers is worker exploitation. On average, a full-time carer works a minimum of 60 hours per week. Most really do put the full into full time, being on call 24/7. But let’s just be conservative with the 60 hours and do some very basic maths.
£116 over 60 hours is less than £1.90 per hour, and for that, you get no overtime, you get no holiday time, you get no pension, no workers rights, no maternity leave, no training and no time to decompress. If £4 an hour for working 40 hours in a factory is worker exploitation, then what is working 60 hours per week and being paid £1.90?
But it’s not “worker” exploitation because the law classifies carers as being less than workers.
But what if we could deliver both a fair wage to carers, and stimulate the country post-covid? You’ll note I said “wage” and not “benefit”.
There are two types of wage in this country. There is an hourly rate and salaried. Salaried being a fixed amount per week based on a contract and it doesn’t matter how many hours the person works. These are common to the likes of retail management.
At the current national minimum wage, a salaried contract at 40 hours would be £356.40 compared to the measly £116 per week carers get. This is what we would need to find in order to pay them properly.
Take carers allowance and throw it in the bin, take the sums which would be spent on income support and throw them in the bin. Combined that’s £116 per week to spend on a new carer’s wage. Now we have £240 to find per week.
This is now a wage so we deduct the standard tax and national insurance (like any other employee). That’s an additional £44 per week bringing us down to £196.
Deduct the £20 COVID uplift, which should be made permanent and now you’re down to £176 per week.
We can reasonably say that no longer having Carers Allowance, Income Support and Universal Credit would reduce the cost of payments by 10%. Now you’re down to £159.00
Remove them from the DWP altogether and transfer them into a national care service alongside their public-sector brothers and sisters and you reduce the cost by another £10 per head per week in administration because you’re adding them to a pre-existing payroll. Now you’re down to £149 per week.
But where the hell do you find an additional £149.00 per week from? It’s quite simple – Economic stimulus. You’ll have heard the horrid phrase that the Tories have been using of late called “economically inactive”, a way to describe carers and pensioners. The fact is that carers are not “economically inactive”. Unlike the Tory politicians whose “contribution” to society is not quantifiable, we know exactly what carers are worth to the economy, pre-covid it was £136 Billion – During COVID £210 Billion. Put simply, carers in the UK contribute more than that budget for NHS England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined – without them, the entire health and social care system would collapse.
The reason they are described as “economically inactive” is because they haven’t got two pennies to rub together. But if we were to pay them a proper wage at a proper rate, they would act as an economic stimulus package. Suddenly you’d have an additional 2 million carers being able to actually buy things in their local communities, and live like regular workers. You’ll make savings on mental health and other health services (because up to 60% of carers have health issues due to their role). You’ll also increase the supply and demand for products throughout the country. More demand equals the requirement for more supply and more supply means more jobs which in turn creates more tax revenue.
Simply put, the retail sectors, hospitality, food, and all other sectors would see a sudden surge in spending. 3% of the population which were unable to spend, suddenly would be. Rather than giving tax breaks to the rich for which the general population will see no benefit, how about we give it to the carers in this country, who will then go to their local butcher, baker, corner shop, pub etc and stimulate the retail sector. And those shops with increase demand have to buy their supplies from somewhere, who have to buy their components and ingredients from somewhere else. Eventually, the money ends up right back where the tax breaks would have been given anyway, but on its way, it creates jobs and growth. Growth which would easily pay the £150 shortfall.
Or we could just continue to exploit carers in the UK, act like bastards, ostracise them, lock them away from the world, sweep the exploitation under the rug and continue to ignore them – give tax breaks to the super-rich, rather than doing something worth doing for once.
From a carers wage structure, we deliver, not just proper renumeration but also respect. For instance, each carer now being a public sector worker would be entitled to a real pension similar to public sector staff. This can only help bolster the pension fund and investment opportunity for other public sector workers.
The national care agency would also have certain responsibilities with respect to training carers. Like basic first aid, how to lift properly, training on equipment etc, how to monitor severely disabled people properly. This can only help the person being cared for. There would be no need for social services and local healthcare partnerships to have to assess care needs for SDS and other packages because those needs would be assessed regularly by the national care agency.
If one of those carers falls ill, they have the opportunity to call HR and simply say “I’m ill! I need backup” and the NCS would schedule staff as they would if one of their own fell ill.”.
They’d be entitled to proper holidays like any other public sector employee and they would book them just like any other public sector employee. Through HR.
But the one thing that would end, would be discrimination of carers. During a pandemic, rather than being denied PPE (which at present they have to buy themselves and were cut off completely at the start of the pandemic when it was all diverted to the NHS, then had to deal with scalpers when they could buy again – I’d like you just to imagine getting £60 a week and having to spend half of it on PPE – or when not available having to wipe someones backside with no gloves – because that’s what the Government did to unpaid carers).
Many carers in this country have not been vaccinated yet due to the fact that they are not classified as housebound or on the shielding list themselves, but leaving the property of the person they care for would result in them being prosecuted (for leaving a vulnerable person along). Good luck trying to get cover. There’s also the fact that they expose themselves to the virus, catch it and then end up killing the person they care for. As public sector employees, the government would have a resposibility to vaccinate them at their place of work (at home) or to give them proper cover to be able to get vaccinated. At present no such requirement exists and so they sit at home and argue the toss with practitioners about why they’re not allowed to be vaccinated despite being locked-in by proxy due to their caring responsibilities.
Carers also have issues with discrimination in daily life, they walk into a store to buy something on credit and putting aside the fact that their low income usually doesn’t allow for accessing such facilities like every other public and private sector carer, they are immediately dismissed as “benefit claimants”. That would end with this model, because companies would be unable to tell them apart from their private and public sector counterparts in terms of both income and the fact they would be walking in with a payslip.
Renting a home would also be easier (none of this “no dss” nonesense which is illegal but still happens anyway) and when things get tight, they’d be able to access credit facilities at normal rates from a bank or highstreet lender, rather than a payday loan company or someone who would separate their kneecaps from their legs if they failed to pay,
What we are talking about here is not just mere remuneration – it’s respect – no more and no less respect than the ordinary worker. Which leaves only one question for all those who stood in doorways and clapped for carers for five minutes each week; would it not be better to have written to your MP for 5 minutes a week and bitch slapped them about the fact that during this pandemic they’ve done absolutely nothing for the front line.
Love them as much as you want, but the hospitals are not the front line in the fight against COVID – they’re certainly the ones at high risk from the virus and the ones who are sticking their neck out treating patients with the virus, but there’s a second front-line and those are the ones trying desperately to prevent those in the shielding category from ever getting sick, who have taken a massive burden of responsibility in this pandemic – we’re talking about the front line of carers in the community – private, public and unpaid. No difference in the three roles, except two of them, are classified as workers and have rights and the third has none, but works harder and longer hours than the first two. The last one also doesn’t even have a workers union.
Sure! Politicians love carers – just not enough to actually do anything for them. And some might say, but Martin! You live in Scotland! The SNP gave you a carers supplement!, and to that, I will reply – 39 minutes!
39 minutes it took for the carers supplement to come in, 39 minutes for it to disappear buying things to perform the same role as carers in the private and public sectors, which they get paid for by their employers. 39 minutes to pay off a very small percentage of debt that would not exist if I had been a private or public sector carer.
We were first into lockdown, we’ll be last out – but so long as waves continue, we’ll remain trapped. What we do is out of love, but irrespective of whether it is looking after a loved one, it’s still our job – it’s hard work, its solid graft, it’s arduous hours and it is non stop – It’s not wrong to ask society who have built a health and social care system on our backs to recognise us for the workers we are – and if they don’t, well then we’re just going to have to get inventive.