Two weeks of doing care work left me physically and mentally exhausted | Maz Halima | Opinion

It’s been a decade since my first night shift as a care worker. It lasted from 8pm to 8am, but two-thirds of the way through I was ready to walk out. I had imagined it would be like when I was a child and had visited a nursing home with my mother, who was caring for the elderly. It was all custard creams and blankets on the floor by the telly. That first shift was a gruelling wake-up call. I’d had intensive training on how to hoist people from their chairs to their beds without breaking their bones, how to dispense medication, how to prop immobile people up in bed without breaking their wafer-thin skin when they wanted to read, and how to change soiled underwear in a way to preserve the dignity of everybody involved. Yet nothing had prepared me for 12 hours of faeces, tears, urine, screaming, lifting, cleaning, running and sweating.

I’ll never forget holding a 90-year-old lady for an hour as she sobbed for her mother, who had died decades before, one hand digging into my back and her other hand clutching a teddy bear. I felt like I was contributing to society for the first time in my life, but I was physically and mentally drained. A fortnight after that first shift, I quit.

Since leaving that first care job, I have spent my 20s working in the media, doing research, marketing, communications, all sorts. My colleagues and I would whinge about our workloads during a company-paid-for yoga class over lunch, doss around in the toilets for 15 minutes at a time and be in the pub by 5.10pm. Not only was my job easier than care work, the pay was threefold. Comparing that with a 12-hour nursing shift where staff barely get a break to eat, you can’t help but know something in the system is broken.But I started having problems sleeping. It took me a while to realise it was because the work I was doing wasn’t satisfying – it had no meaning. My job may have sounded prestigious, but I’d never felt more useless in my life. At 30, I went to my local nursing home, brushed up on my care qualifications and now I’m back where I was a decade ago, more compassionate to the people I was once too tired to care for, and more understanding of how important care work is.

This week the government announced its post-Brexit, points-based immigration system, stating its goal is to end reliance on “cheap labour from Europe” by restricting the entry of “low-skilled” workers – this includes care workers.

How it works

Bulgarian welder, holds A-level equivalent, has job offer for £26,000 a year, does not speak English.

Now: Able to work in the UK under free movement rules.
From January 2021: The worker scores points for a job offer, salary over £25,600, educational qualification, and working in a shortage occupation – meaning a score of 80 points, 10 more than the 70-point threshold. Ticks two of the three mandatory boxes for entry to the country – a job offer and job at appropriate skill level. But falling short on the third compulsory condition for entry of speaking English rules the welder out and they cannot come into the UK. 

Sri Lankan production manager, has job offer for a salary of £28,000 a year, holds A-level equivalent, holds a PhD in a Stem subject, speaks English. 

Now: Eligible courtesy of the requisite educational qualification of degree or over. 
From January 2021: The worker earns less than the £34,000 “going rate” for their profession, meaning that they must pick up 70 points elsewhere to be eligible. They are not in a shortage occupation and so score zero on that point – but succeed nonetheless with 20 points for a job offer, 20 points for their A-level equivalent, 10 points for English, and 20 points for a PhD in a Stem subject – a total of exactly 70.

Italian waiter has job offer in a hotel at £20,000, has languages degree and fluent in English.

Now: Able to work in the UK under free movement rules.
From January 2021: Is eligible to enter on the three mandatory conditions – job offer, speaks English and has met education threshold. Picks up 50 points. But scores zero for salary, zero for shortage occupation, does not have a PhD and cannot come into the country.

My mother arrived in the UK from Pakistan as an overwhelmed five-year-old in the 1960s, and in the 1980s she got her first job at a nursing home, eventually taking on domestic cleaning jobs on the side to pay the bills. My mother was a superhero, she helped people who had nobody. I grew up watching her care for others, giving them the attention and patience she rarely gave to herself. That sums up what I know care workers to be – they sacrifice their lunch breaks, their physical health and in many instances their mental health for the sake of the service user. Yet we still struggled. Everything from our towels to our t-shirts were charity shop. When my mother was 40, she’d had enough of all the low-paid, strenuous physical labour and began taking training courses to get an administrative job in the civil service. By her 50s, she had worked in The Hague and Downing Street. She proved to herself that she was always capable of getting higher-paid work – but it was care work that had required a more robust skillset.

One-sixth of the care workforce in England is made up of foreign workers. Culturally, a person of colour is more likely to be looked after at home by their families than to be put in a care residence – so limiting workers from abroad will restrict services for white English people in the name of nationalism. While the government has insisted British-born people can make up the falling numbers of care staff – England is short by about 110,000 – the job is not incentivised in any way and once you are trained, you are unlikely to make enough money to survive as a single person, let alone if you have a family to feed. To be a carer is to be self-sacrificing.

Care workers play an integral part in maintaining a civil society. We look after people at the end of their lives and it is our responsibility to ensure they feel safe, happy and loved, often right up until the moment they die. How could that be considered a “low-skilled” job?

Maz Halima is a freelance writer based in London

Source link