By Robert Stephenson-Padron
Last week, the Daily Express shed light on the recruitment issues facing the care sector in the article “Workers shun ‘menial’ home care”. As the head of ethical home care provider Penrose Care in London, I want to express my concern over social care work’s current apparent negative image but also offer a message of hope.
That nearly 70% of respondents in the survey the Daily Express covered said they would “shun a job caring for people in their own home” is not surprising. Care work is physically and emotionally demanding and characterised by very low pay. Indeed, cases of minimum wage violations are known to be systemic rather than the exception. So why not do a less demanding job that pays the same or better?
High profile “care scandals” especially since 2009 have further exacerbated a hiring landscape which was already difficult at best.
At Penrose Care, we have a two-pronged approach to recruitment which has allowed us to attract what we call people who have a vocation to care, and retain them. First, Penrose Care put in place concrete ethical workplace standards such as the Living Wage and second, we emphasise that although care work can be demanding, it can also be incredibly rewarding.
In 2012, Penrose Care became one of the first four home care providers in the UK to become an Accredited Living Wage Employer. We also pay for travel time and run an occupational sick pay scheme. These concrete measures, which are expensive and so require courage, send a credible message to people with a genuine vocation to care that we share their values. It should be no surprise then that a good portion of our home care workers are degree-educated but have come to Penrose Care to do work they believe is meaningful.
Care work is meaningful and this needs to be conveyed. Positive psychology teaches us that “meaning” provides us far lasting happiness than “pleasures”. And what price can we put on happiness? I have had the good fortune of not only being the manager, but also on occasions having to work on the front line.
The impact I had on a lonely elderly person’s well being by spending some time with them during a home care visit was strikingly apparent. The laughing and smiling on a person I know had tendencies towards despondency was incredibly powerful to me. The experience conveyed to me strongly that the meaning in our work comes from us giving our time and our humanity.
Physical tasks can be essential but they are part of a greater holistic whole, the whole being that the person you are supporting is continuing their life as normal as they can because of you. And because of you, you the home care worker are their hero, right then, right there. The heroic acts in home care and healthcare are the willingness and openness to listen, the kindness of giving time and space and an attitude of paying attention to detail when we honour the wishes of those who are in our care.
Behind closed doors, in early mornings and during the night, home care workers are our country’s silent workforce doing heroic things every day. They need care providers who are themselves caring, are themselves heroic. We need to get this message out. After all, who doesn’t want to be a hero?
Robert Stephenson-Padron is the managing director of Penrose Care, an ethical home care provider based in Belsize Village, Hampstead, north London.