“My ex-husband fixes cars, and I fix people. Like lots of men he says: ‘I couldn’t do the job you are doing’, but I couldn’t be a car mechanic. So why should he get more money for being a car mechanic and I get less for actually keeping a person independent in their own house?”
The state of social care in the UK has come under increasing scrutiny, with policymakers, commissioners and providers debating the long-term sustainability of services, but an important voice – that of frontline staff – has been largely absent from discussions.
A new book gives an unprecedented insight into the experiences of homecare workers. Based on extensive interviews with staff in the sector, it reveals a proud and skilled workforce who feel underfunded, overstretched and undervalued.
Lydia Hayes, author of Stories of Care: A Labour of Law, argues that the low pay, poor status and lack of respect they experience is due to the fact this workforce is mostly female and working class.
A lecturer in law at Cardiff University, Hayes researches employment law with a focus on the care sector, and as part of her research for the book, and to help give a voice to these workers, she interviewed 30 homecare staff – all working-class women – at length.
“I realised that as a consequence of the sexism and class bias they experience, they are subject to a number of tensions in the way they talk about their work,” she says. “On the one hand, they talk about the work as being incredibly satisfying and worthwhile. On the other, they can talk about it as something which strips their personal dignity, takes away their self-confidence and leaves them in tears at the end of the day.”
Hayes, who hopes her book will be read by politicians, senior managers, trade unions, care campaigners and those involved in social policy development, as well as academics, says care staff are victims of what she terms “institutional humiliation”.