Carers: Unskilled Labour, Or Our Most Undervalued Resource?

The job title, ‘carer’ is a simple one, and one that doesn’t even begin to encompass the complexity of what the role entails. To be a carer is not simply just to help with the daily needs and activities of the elderly or infirm - such as feeding, bathing, dressing, toileting. It is so much more; it is also lifting and moving. It is helping with cooking and cleaning, vacuuming, changing beds. Being a carer is administering medications or helping to change dressings. It is helping with tasks such as shopping, banking, transportation. It is observing, monitoring and recording the client's physical and mental well-being. It is listening and encouraging. It is kindness and patience. 

It is also misunderstood, undervalued, and poorly paid - and has recently been labelled by the government as ‘unskilled’, which is ignorant at best and insulting and dangerous at worst. Caring for the most frail and vulnerable members of our society requires a great deal of skill. It requires high empathy, understanding and incredible levels of patience. Caring is a highly intimate profession that demands high levels of tolerance, humour even, and in some cases maybe a strong stomach, determination and strength. Carers leave their own lives at the door when they enter work; they don’t allow their welfare of their clients to be compromised by their personal lives, by their bad moods or other emotions. Carers put the emotional and physical needs of others before their own - Every. Single. Day.

This is not a skill set that is innate to every human being. Could you do it? Sure, we all do our best to be kind, patient and unselfish, but I think very few us could truly admit that we could continue to showcase those skills while someone with severe dementia is yelling at us or being cruel, or while we spend two hours helping a frail person around a busy supermarket, or are cleaning someone who hasn’t made it to the toilet in time for the third time that day...and all while being respectful and maintaining dignity for that person. In fact, this very specific skill set is so rare that it greatly contributes to the shortage of carers in this country, and so the industry relies greatly on immigrant carers, as well as those who are British born.

This makes the government’s recent comments about introducing an immigration points system particularly worrying for the care industry. Foreign nationals currently make up a sixth of the 840,000 care workers in the UK, but under the government’s new plans anyone wanting to apply to work in the UK care sector from abroad would fall short of the points required to enter the country; both due to it being labelled ‘unskilled’ work, and the fact that it is a low-paid occupation (under £20,000 on average).

On top of that, care work still isn’t classed as a shortage occupation, despite the fact that 1 in 11 posts is currently unfilled, and it is this lack of awareness of the industry by the government, coupled with their, quite frankly, offensive comments about the work being unskilled, are an incredibly dangerous combination - throw in added problem of incredibly low pay, and we have a ticking time bomb. At some point in our lives it is likely we will all need the assistance of a carer (even you, Mr Primeminister), whether that be because we develop dementia or a disability, or simply because we will age. And when that time comes I’m sure we all want to be cared for by someone who feels appreciated enough within that role to offer us their skills of compassion, understanding, patience, kindness and warmth.

Who will care for us, if we don’t care for our carers?


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