Care crisis: ‘The pay’s still bad, there’s still talk about cuts to food allowance’

Trish McLaughlin

Scottish Socilalist Party national co-spokesperson Róisín McLaren spoke to care worker Trish McLaughlin ahead of the SSP’s forum ‘When is a National Care Service not a National Care Service?’ discussing the Feeley Report into adult social care

· (Róisín:) You first got in contact with us when we met on Princes Street at the SSP stall. You mentioned that you’d worked 20 years in the care service. But you’ve not worked continuously in care, you’ve been away and come back. What made you want to come back to the care sector?

(Trish:) I left when I was about 22, I went to get a higher education, I couldn’t see progression [in the care sector]. I came back because now my children are adults, it was the job I was trained in and I knew there were a lot of jobs going.

And I knew the coronavirus was going to be a problem and I knew that I could help.

So, you choose to come back knowing there was a pandemic on? That’s a very brave decision.

I started two days before my town was put in lockdown! I’ve lived here for 15 years now I just felt that this town has looked after me and my family and I wanted to pay something back.

A lot of people who work in care are the same; it’s their contribution to their community.

At the last forum you said that you felt a lot of carers were ‘burnt out’ and going to leave the care service after the pandemic, can you tell us about that?

It has taken 110 per cent from people every day, we’re trained to leave our own troubles at the door.

You’re there to do a job, when I put my scrubs on, I’m there to work. But the problem with the coronavirus is it’s everywhere, it’s getting harder and harder for carers make the distinction, to ‘get into work mode’.

When I started in 1998 one of the first things I was told was. ‘don’t ever expect this sector to change’.
I got paid £5.10 an hour then, I was a single mum, I had a wee boy and I thought, ‘well it’ll get me through’.

And I ended up going on to college and then I went to uni. But when I came back, I could hear my trainer’s voice [saying those words] when I walked back into the building. And I thought, ‘my God she was right’. It’s a job that, especially when it comes to personal care, it never changes.

The pay’s still bad, there’s still conversations going on about food allowance being cut.

Caring is a vocation. I don’t know if that is a cultural thing, as a people, are we moving away from the idea of people having a vocation?

There is pride in being a nurse, but I don’t think it’s ever really been there for carers.

Do you think the Home Helps had more of an identity that you could be proud of?

Yes. Because everybody knows that the Home Helps did more than carers [in the community] are technically allowed to do.

I thought about going home caring at one point and they were like, ‘you can’t change a light bulb, you cannae do this, you cannae do that’ but what if that’s what they need?

So, I made the mistake of taking the interview and saying, ‘well I’ll just do it and no tell yous’, and I never got the job.

Care is care, you don’t pick and choose what people need. It’s the person that says, ‘I need help with this’.

I feel so sorry for families that say well we only need help with this [one thing]. Clearly, it’s in the name change.

‘Home help’ to ‘Care in the Community’, and by care they just mean personal care, yet there is so much more to a person than just personal care.

Yip, it’s the social interaction, I dread to think how many people are in their houses at the moment and gradually over this last year, the amount of people [for] who the carers would have been the only people coming in. It must be a nightmare.

Before I spoke to people at your party, I didn’t know that one of the companies [that owns care homes] was actually and investment company and I don’t think that people know that their loved one’s care is a stock market investment.

That is a worry because then the ability to provide care is dependent on what the stock market is doing…

And they [the residents] don’t have homes anymore because they’ve sold them [to pay for their care].
What happens if you turn round to an old person and say to them, ‘well you need a hip transplant or a bypass, but you need to sell your house’ what is the first thing they’re going to say, ‘we paid into the NHS, that’s what the NHS is for’ but it seems to be accepted that if they need care, they have to do that.

The thought of turning round and saying to someone’s gran and saying you need a new knee so you’re going to have to sell your car and how much do you have in bank? There would be an uproar.

Do you think that this system values old people and disabled people?

It’s out of sight out of mind a lot of the time. We had care in the community and the big thing was for it to be in communities no one accounted for big corporations getting involved.

No one at a worker level or a community level thought that could be a thing.

If you had said to us in the 90s that somebody would invest in a care home, we’d say what are they doing that for? Care shouldn’t be a commodity.

It’s a drip, drip, drip over two decades. It’s the aftershock of Thatcher, it’s just rippled down through generations. And we’re coming across things [now] and we’re realising that was put in place back then.

What’s it going to be like in 20 years? If I left and came back again, realistically I could come back to an industry that’s even worse.

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