Carers need pay, not badges

Carers need pay, not badges

Carers need pay, not badges

by Freya Papworth 

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It’s “too soon” to be talking about a pay rise, it’s not the right time to be ‘political’, and "now is not the time" to talk about gender. But here - let me show you this badge we made and are going to sell you to show our appreciation.

Last week two government schemes were announced. One is to help tackle domestic violence during lockdown, and the other to help care workers get the recognition they deserve. As DV charities were allocated a pitiful £2million (with no explanation of which charities would be eligible, or how the desperate need for refuge spaces will be met), Priti Patel asked us to draw hearts on hands to show our support. I can’t repeat here what my first thought was when I read that news, but it was an angry one. A few days later, in a wonderful example of when real life overtakes satire, Matt Hancock announced a badge for care workers so they could jump the line in Tesco. A solution to all their problems! 

The sheer audacity of this government amazes me. Under increasing criticism for how social care has been overlooked and under-supported, this is the best they could come up with. Someone said “I know - we made a badge last year that no one liked, which got shelved. Let’s pretend it’s a new idea and relaunch it” and they agreed. Nevermind the fact that care homes are being ravaged by this epidemic, that PPE and testing is non-existent, and that wages for carers have been decimated over the past decade of austerity cuts. 

It’s hardly a surprise. Official government statistics say just over 200 residents have died in care homes since the start of Covid19 and that PPE is being delivered. However reports from the people that actually do the work paints a significantly different picture. The real figure is estimated to be about 4000, and that doesn’t include care workers dying on the front line. With masks that are out of date and inadequate, carers are being backed into an impossible position. Homes are reporting being forced to take in elderly or special needs residents who are being thrown out of hospital to make space, with no testing to see if they are carriers of the disease or not. The sheer number of care workers taking to social media in absolute agony as they describe the chaos they are facing is terrifying, and the inevitable mental health issues that will follow should be of great concern. 

I wondered this week what it was that linked these issues. Why were nurses getting the blame for wasting PPE? Why has the care system been utterly overlooked? Why are the homeless being offered shelter in hotels, when abuse victims are not? It wasn’t until I started scrolling through feminist twitter that the lightbulb went off: these are issues that are overwhlemighly affecting women. Women make up between 85-95% of all workers in direct care jobs. 89% of nurses and health workers are women, and 70% of all domestic violence victims are women. Women are consistently disbelieved, marginalised, and blamed. From the abuse victim who’s told to stop lying to the pain patient being sent to a psychiatrist or the nurse complaining that her mask doesn’t fit, we are told it’s our fault. We are somehow wrong, defective, crazy, or making a fuss. 

There is a glaring absence of women’s voices in the team leading our pandemic response, and so women’s voices - their insights and their needs - are being overlooked. The impact this will have on women is immeasurable. A £1.20 badge does not address that.

 

Freya Papworth is an officer for the Women's Equality Party's Lambeth branch

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