There are 1.6 million care workers in the UK. For decades, they have quietly kept communities running. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, carers have remained committed to the vital work they do: supporting people to live with dignity.
Gail Grinnell is one of them. A healthcare assistant in a Dudley care home, Gail says she wouldn’t ever want to do any other job.
“If you’d have asked me eight years ago if I’d be a carer, I’d have laughed. I never saw myself doing it. I used to work in pubs. But when my parents begun relying on carers, it really opened my eyes seeing how much they did.
“I stood back and saw just how much carers do for people who rely on them, and decided I wanted to give something back.”
Gail says that, eight years on, her only wish is that she’d started doing the work earlier.
“I find it so rewarding – even though it can be very stressful at times. You really do build a bond with people and they trust you. What you have to remember is, for many people, accepting that you need a carer is hard. And it’s a real skill to be able to help them feel comfortable and dignified.”
Care work is skilled work, yet at present, three in four care workers are not paid a living wage.
Low wages were part of the reason that Gail stopped working as a community care worker.
“In community care work, I was spending more time driving than I did actually doing the care,” she explains. “I got mileage, but by the time it was taxed, it wasn’t worth it. In the end, I was becoming out of pocket because of my car. I was putting too much petrol in for what I was earning.”
While Gail believes that care work is something you do “for the love of the job,” that doesn’t mean she should be out of pocket.
“I do believe we deserve more,” she notes. “There are some fantastic carers out there who deserve to be paid a hell of a lot more than what they’re getting. Carers can work shifts that run from 10 to 16 hours and only get paid a basic rate.”
The low pay and lack of structure within the social care sector is a large reason why the turnover is at 30%.
Gail continues: “I do think that, if there was a pay structure and something to work towards, a lot more people would stay in the job. If pay went on bands, the turnover would drop because you’d have something to work to.”
Despite the money being better in a care home, Gail misses doing community work. “The biggest difference is that when you’re doing community work, you have a chance to switch off in between calls.
“If a resident has been quite ill in one house, you’ve got time to reflect and compose yourself before the next as you drive or walk to the next one. But in the care home, you have to find other ways to release yourself.
“I do have a bond with people here though. I bring my dog in on my day off, and he loves it. He’s a little therapy dog called Buddy.
“I’d be lying if I said I don’t get attached to people – it hurts me every time someone passes away. You’ve got to build not just a working relationship with them, but build their trust.
“When you’re working in a care home, you’re working in someone’s home. A lot of people forget that – and how much trust it takes.”
And she concludes: “I wish the government understood how hard carers work.”