The link between low pay and abuse.

As 11 former Winterbourne View staff are sentenced (many would say, far too lightly) for their abuse of the vulnerable people in their “care”, commentators are rightly hostile to the idea that the low pay and long hours culture that afflicts much of the residential social care workforce is any kind of excuse for the behaviour that went on there.

They are entirely right.

Many people enter residential care after years of being cared for at home 24 hours a day by unpaid carers who are family members.

Tweetmate @mrsnickyclark made this point well when she tweeted:

“@mrsnickyclark: Also that twat excusing his torture from 12 hour days of paid work? I “worked” 24 hours a day & I didn’t pour mouth wash into anyone’s eyes”

Likewise Tweetmate @ouryve

“@ouryve: @mrsnickyclark after almost 9 years of 24 hours days, it’s never occurred to me to torture my boys.”

For family carers who may have resisted and resisted their loved-one entering a residential care setting but in the end may agree because they are at the end of their own resilience and capacity, the Winterbourne View story may be devastating. Who can we trust to care for the people we love when we cannot do it ourselves?

The abuse is incomprehensible and completely unjustifiable.

The Winterbourne View staff may have worked long hours and been low paid, but one thing’s for sure, their hours were shorter and their pay higher than unpaid carers within families.

At the same time as recognising this, it has to be said that there IS a link between a culture of low pay, long hours and abuse, and it is this:

For as long as rate of pay is strongly associated with personal status (and in our society, it is), the long hours, low pay culture is a statement that this work doesn’t matter; that we don’t value it as a society. It says that we aren’t interested in recruiting and retaining people with the skills and personal attributes to do caring work well. It says that the people who are employed to do it won’t be invested in – whether as individuals who may need to be trained, equipped, supported, supervised, or as parts of a “system” which needs to be human-shaped and to have embedded within it the time to build relationships and understanding.

It says we are content to have workers who get a session of advice that tells them which ‘restraint’ techniques they can probably get away with, but not committed to finding workers who are capable of developing a deep understanding of the things that make the people they care for ‘tick’ and which will mean that those people feel happy and safe and don’t ‘need’ restraint – with its potential for a speedy slide into abuse.

It’s an attitude which sees no need to create working environments which encourage and enable people to do their best, to manage their own behaviour, to hold their colleagues to account. It’s a culture which sees the financial viability of an organisation (in this case Castlebeck) as more important than its values, principles or ethos and which prizes and praises senior managers and leaders for focusing on the financial bottom line and NOT for showing in word and deed that the needs and well-being of the residents being cared for are at the centre of their thinking and practice.

In short, it’s a business model which takes two of the features of family member care – long hours and little or no financial reward – and makes them the entire basis for service provision.

This is incomprehensible and unjustifiable in its own way too.

People who work long hours and low pay have no absolutely no excuse for abusive behaviour. But the fact that family carers never get a chance to switch off and don’t get paid is absolutely no excuse for running residential care along similar lines.

It’s time to support carers and to attach real value (including financial value) to caring work whether it’s carried out in our own homes or in residential care homes.

Sadly, I have no faith at all that the current policy-makers in Government recognise this.

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3 thoughts on “The link between low pay and abuse.

  1. Well said. I saw that programme. it was one of the most unpleasant things I have ever seen. The sentences are unblelievably lenient, almost as if the judge saw the victims as being as worthless as the staff clearly did. If those abused people had been animals living in a research facility the outrage and the sentences would have been greater i suspect. I worked in both elderly and child residential care in the 80’s. In those days, in local authority homes, the care standards were relatively high, despite pay being low. Not always though. While training I did a placement in a unit for very difficult young people. To save money on having waking night staff (I presume) the establishment employed what can only be described as ‘night watchmen’. They walked aroud with big rubber torches which they threatened any misbehaving kids with. I was appallled. I hesitantly mentioned it critically to the boss of the place, who waa a nationally regarded psychologist. He told me I’d think differently when I had more experience. I didn’t.

  2. Bravo, and well said IMP! I have worked as a carer for people with learning disabilities and mental health problems, and in the 2 and a half years I worked for a large, Kent/South London Company. I saw abuses that horrified me. There is a business attitude towards the running of the entire network of care services that stinks of abuse and it filters down from the top. I saw blatant financial abuse within one of the services where I worked. Vile people, dipped in sugar, and those of us who did the work for love, more than money, were trouted in every way. What the clients/service users really wanted, and needed, was time and attention, an opportunity to talk about themselves and for someone to pay attention to them. However, such was the ‘building a case against me’, that In the end I was only going into work for disciplinaries, for everything ranging from not cleaning the microwave that I hadn’t used, to using the wrong coloured ink pen in one of 6 diaries (I kid you not) we had to fill in at the end of every shift. I couldn’t complain because I had not been honest about taking medication for depression at my interview, for obvious reasons, and I was facing a final disciplinary based on ludicrous charges of not taking a highly agitated and known to be violent patient, who was known to bite her arms, to A&E at 10.30pm on a Friday night for mild self inflicted teeth marks – the third lot that week, incidentally. The other two staff were not similarly treated as I was. And yes, MCCH, I still have a copy of the file, because you left it until the last minute to call the fiasco off!Apologies, this subject sends my blood pressure soaring. I genuinely loved the people I looked after, and they loved me back. Yes, I had a bit of ’empty nest’ syndrome, but so what? I took care of both my parents, and do not regret it for one moment. I learned so much about them, and where they came from, and winced at their pains, as they had once winced at mine.I feel so much for those who look after their loved ones too. It is relentless, hard work and often soul destroying. A 24/7 job, and sadly, the very ill often cannot distinguish between night and day. When I worked as a carer, I could go through all the nightly rituals, sign off from my shift, shout luv ya from the door, and go home and chill out. Those who have no relief, or respite, do not have that luxury. People like myself are hounded out of the Care Industry, because we dare to ask questions and we do not confirm to the rotten system of corruption, that doesn’t even have the decency to psychologically screen those that they put in charge of society’s most vulnerable people. Apologies for getting on my soapbox, this is an issue close to my heart. Carers should be more carefully scrutinised, before they are giving care of the vulnerable. Sadly, there are still freaky Baby Jane type characters out there, who could be screened out before interview. Those who do not see the common sense in caring for the carers, should think about their own futures, and in whose arms their gonna be. Happily, there are still so many good carers out there, who put up with all the shit, because if they don’t stick it out and take care of these dear souls, then who the hell will? And I salute them. I know how hard it is to speak out, and I suffered as a consequence. As I knew I would. But I sleep well, and when I see cases such as Winterbourne, I thank all the Gods there may be, that there are people willing to speak out, and if enough speak, then action must be taken.

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