The kindness of strangers

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I suppose most of us want to look forward to an old age of good health, ticking things off the bucket list and perhaps indulging some eccentricities and before quietly slipping off to the last adventure.

But for most of us, there will be some ill-health in our final years and we will need help. Help that family members maybe can’t or won’t provide in full. So most of us will be very much dependent on the kindness of strangers.

Kindness, compassion, and empathy  are all things that we want when being cared for. Even if we’re paying for that care, directly or indirectly, perhaps even especially.  It’s certainly not too much to expect to be treated with dignity.  People often talk about the ‘mum test’ for standards of care – how would you want your parents to be treated?  Would you want to be cared for by a rushed care worker who perhaps you’ve never met before?   As my own parents are ‘getting up there’ (though certainly not ready for the care home yet  if you’re reading this Mom and Dad), it’s something I worry about.  Will there be reliable care for them if they need it?

Many home care workers are absolutely dedicated to caring for their clients and treat them with respect, compassion and consideration.  One senior social worker talked to me recently about the absolute dedication of some of their home care workers – getting to work through flood and snow – and the obvious passion and care they bring to their work.

But home care workers themselves are sometimes not being treated in dignified ways. Caring for people in small time slots, working for low wages and uncertain hours in zero hours contracts and sometimes not being compensated for travel between appointments.  And often there’s inconsistency in staff, meaning people may be seen by many different care workers over their period of need.  Part of this is down to the way care contracts are commissioned, part of it is because of the way the market has evolved, part of it is because commissioners of care are between a squeeze and a bind. More people will need care in their own homes, but there is less money to pay for it.

It’s hard to expect people to deliver high quality care if they don’t feel cared for and valued in their work. I suppose this would be the ‘friend test’ – would you advise a friend to work a job in these circumstances?

I’m not arguing against zero hours contracts per se.  There is certainly a lot to be said for flexibility from both the employer’s and employee’s point of view. But we do need to look again at how well care workers are treated  in their employment – so they’re in the right frame to provide good care.  And we need to look at this holistically, we have to think about the ways that we provide care in general – are we taking sufficient account of informal care and supporting people to sustain their social network so they’re not completely reliant on the kindness of strangers.

The LGiU and Mears Group are now working with Paul Burstow, MP on The Commission on the Future of the Home Care Workforce.  The Commission is now seeking evidence from local authorities, care providers, trade unions, regulators and anyone with a stake in providing sustainable, high-quality care in people’s homes.

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