Shirley works as a care worker in a residential home. She is paid less than the living wage, currently £7.65 an hour. Her husband is retired and they live in rented accommodation. Although Shirley has had a small pay increase over the last few years, she has found it increasingly difficult to pay her bills as prices have increased much faster than her wages. She has used savings to pay her bills, but these are now running out and she is very worried about the future. A pay increase to take her up to the living wage and yearly increases after that would help her and her colleagues make ends meet.
Shirley told us that most of her work colleagues earn less than the living wage, and many earn only just above the minimum wage. She thinks that this has an impact for the employer as they see a very high turnover of staff, and often have to use agency workers. Constantly changing staff also has an impact on residents who get used to particular staff. In addition although Shirley’s employer provides mandatory training such as manual handling and food safety, Shirley and her colleagues have to push for training to achieve their NVQ levels 2 and 3.
Shirley loves her job and finds it rewarding, but she told us that when she meets new people and they ask her what she does for a living she feels embarrassed to tell them that she is a care worker. She thinks this is to do with the poor image that working in care has – “people think that anyone can do care work, or only people who can’t do anything else work in care”. She feels this is also to do with the poor pay for care work and the poor status that the job has.
Shirley thinks that care work is undervalued and underrated - “people think that all care workers do is wipe people’s bottoms.” But there’s so much more to it than that. As well as helping residents wash, dress, and eat, care workers also have to cope with their constantly changing health needs, and sadly some residents need end of life care. Care workers also have to cope with the emotions of residents families as well as their own emotions. Despite all this Shirley finds her job incredibly rewarding and this is especially due to the interaction with residents and their families, many of whom are wonderful people who have had amazing lives.
North Somerset UNISON is campaigning for the Living Wage and also for all Care Providers to sign up to UNISON's Ethical Care Charter - more information can be found at this link: http://www.unison.org.uk/news/ethical-care-campaign-launched
You can also read Shirley's Story on the national UNISON website: