Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Who Cares?

Many years ago I used to work in social care - working with people with learning disabilities to be more precise. It was the best job I ever had, the one job I ever felt truly good at and to this day I still feel pangs of regret for leaving it. So a new government TV advert encouraging people to consider a career in care grabbed my attention. Take a butchers, if you fancy:

Needless to say, and I sincerely hope it is, I have nothing bad to say about those featured. Joe and Laura perfectly represent the people I met in my time as a carer which means staff and clients alike; people I count amongst the finest I have ever met. Are you getting the picture? I LOVED MY JOB! So, with that said, sadly, there is just so much about this ad that makes me uncomfortable.

Firstly I don’t think it sends out the right message. There is an emphasis on social care being a job that doesn’t feel like a job. And if there’s one thing that ever annoyed me whenever I encountered the public (always too often for my liking), it was their perception of my role. As a carer, you are routinely subjected to comments about how kind, special and virtuous you must be.

Nothing bad about that you might think, what‘s your problem? Answer: such accolades come with a price. After the praise followed the questions about whether you lived in the house with your clients, whether you even got paid and what you planned to move on to next. Well meaning but laden with stereotypes that ultimately feel judgemental. It’s quite hard to feel your job is taken seriously when the fact that you get paid is met with, “that’s nice”. People were almost always surprised to find that I classed my work as a career and floored to discover that I had a degree. The same as for many of my colleagues in fact.

I’m not stupid. When it comes to public perception I’d rather be a carer than a traffic warden. But it’s the idea that it’s part of who you are rather than a (valuable) job that you do that rankles. It’s incredibly limiting because in reality it’s a job that takes skill, dedication and at times, nerves of steel. You do need to be caring but you also need to be perceptive, quick thinking and incredibly tough.

During my time as a carer I was kicked, punched, and head butted. I had a cup of tea thrown in my face and was told by my charge that they hoped I died that evening so I never came back (although to be fair, that’s happened in all my jobs). I’ve had to sit in the middle of the road in peak time traffic, cope with gushing head wounds and chase screeching clients through shopping centres. All while remaining calm and ALWAYS having a plan. After all, that’s your job.

So, going back to the ad, can I call that work? Yes, actually, I think I can. And so should everyone else while we’re at it so I’m a little disappointed to see a national, government commissioned ad implying otherwise. There is so much that can be said for working in care that making out it’s not proper work should never made it into the list. What’s next? Maybe ads for fire-fighters: “Do you like playing with fire? Then come and play all day!” Or perhaps, “Is heaven missing an angel? Is it you? Well bless your cotton socks, how about a job as a nurse.”

You may think that none of this really matters or that it isn’t relevant to you. But these jobs are critical in a civilised society and a safety net for us all. I think the least we can do is bother our arse to pay the work, and the people who do it, some much needed respect.

I left care work when it became impossible to class myself as sane for tolerating such paltry wages. Financial ruin was just around the corner. Thinking about it, maybe this is what the ad is implying when they ask if it’s really work. Again, I repeat that it was the best job I ever had and one that was heartbreaking to say goodbye to so they are right to big up the sense of satisfaction and sheer joy that care work can bring.

But if you doubt that the stereotypes I mentioned above are restricting in any way then this is because you haven’t sat opposite blank faced, clueless interviewers. You may be a saint but you’re a two dimensional one who probably won’t be able to work the photocopier.

I’ve done my bit since. Having since worked in positions where I have been responsible for recruitment, I automatically take note of anyone with a background in care work on the basis that I know they will be able to think on their feet and get on well with others. Oh and they’ll WORK really hard.

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