The Equality and Human Rights Commission inquiry into ‘older people and human rights in home care’ has found ‘many examples of older people’s human rights being breached, including physical or financial abuse, disregarding their privacy and dignity, failing to support them with eating or drinking, treating them as if they were invisible, and paying little attention to what they want’. The report has been met with predictable outrage. The minister for care services, Paul Burstow, says that ‘this government won’t tolerate poor care’ and has ‘ordered 250 immediate inspections of home care providers’. But they’re pressing ahead with their proposed cuts to the adult social care budget, which will see an 8 per cent reduction in services to over-65s.
I work in home care for a private agency. The job is low status, badly paid (£6.84 an hour; senior carers get £7.19), physically and mentally tiring, involves unsociable and unpredictable hours and unpalatable tasks. I have no formal training or qualifications (a philosophy degree doesn’t count). The managers have no care experience; their backgrounds are in sales and recruitment. The agency ensures that I have a CRB check and yearly training, but its interest in my performance ends there. For the past 18 months I have had daily access to vulnerable, elderly people’s homes and provided intimate personal care for them, yet no one has actually observed me at work. Were I stealing from, neglecting, physically or sexually abusing any of my charges, no one else would know. And if, as I hope, I’m doing a decent job, again no one else knows.
My employer chases its care assistants with letters, phone calls and text messages to make sure our training on food hygiene, infection control and health and safety is up to date. ‘Training’ involves watching a PowerPoint presentation and filling in an internet questionnaire. Such box-ticking exercises have little effect on the standard of care, yet time and money are squandered on them that could be better spent supervising staff at work and carrying out spot-checks. The government’s proposal for voluntary registration for healthcare assistants is window-dressing. Until the system is properly regulated, and until carers are given adequate training, real qualifications, job security, decent pay and the status that comes with those things, nothing is going to change.