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.