The crisis in homecare

By civilised standards people living longer should be something to celebrate. But in the twisted logic of neoliberalism it is regarded instead as a burden – a “demographic time-bomb”. Here, former Edinburgh care worker Marlyn Tweedie explains the reality of the growing crisis in social care. This article was originally published in the Leeds publication Northern Star. 

Pic via flickr/McBeth
Pic via flickr/McBeth

Over the last 20 years, councils throughout the UK have privatised and cut homecare. Despite growing need, in the last 3 years budgets have been cut by 11%. According to Age UK, 800,000 elderly and disabled people are not getting the help they need, leaving families under intolerable strain.

One relative reported to Age UK of sleeping on his mother’s sofa to ensure she was safe. She had dementia. He paid a carer 16 hours a week but it wasn’t enough. She regularly disappeared, set fire to kitchen appliances, had two falls and took an accidental overdose necessitating an admission to hospital. The carer said it was one of the worst times of his life.

80% of care is now provided by the private sector and whether Council or agency there is not enough time scheduled for care visits. And councils who have to bid for care contracts say they have to be “competitive” with the private sector.

While council carers (in Edinburgh at least) can be allowed 45 min. for someone with severe mobility problems, the usual time allocation is 30 minutes – or sometimes as little as 15. But recently a report in Daily Mail stated that 209,000 visits commissioned by 6 Councils were of just a 5 minute duration. Whatever inadequate time allotted, it doesn’t allow for travel time nor time spent ascertaining the required tasks or finding medication etc. Often the service-users are unwell or confused.

Imagine the scenario 

The morning shift tends to be the hardest. You arrive at your first call. The service-user needs help to get up, washed, and helped with toileting, dressing and given medication. You then have to tidy up – perhaps leave a sandwich for later. You have to ensure good hygiene practices are followed – dealing with bodily fluids is the norm.

Unforeseen circumstances often arise – someone has fallen or they’re unwell or supplies have run out. You then have a further 6 or 7 people to care for in the next 4 hours. It’s not rocket science to see that 30 minutes is not enough time.

Staff are exhausted and demoralised because they can’t give adequate care even when they work at high speed; starting early and finishing late.

Perpetual crisis 

Given the worst capitalist crisis since the 1930s and the re-election of the Tories, this will become worse unless we start to build a resistance.

Many home-carers have been courageous and deeply concerned they have tried to organise their colleagues in Trade Unions and campaign groups. Often, however, they’ve been victimised and, predictably, the TU leaders have not risen to the challenge.

Councillors, despite being told the consequences of budget cuts, continue to inflict them – stating they can’t set an “illegal” budget.

We can’t rely on councillors or TU leaders to fight for a care service which provides well for those who need it and doesn’t result in carer’s health and spirits being broken.



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