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UK Dementia Congress 2020

10 Nov 2020

Online

Commitment, compassion, cash

By guest blogger JEF SMITH

If Keir Starmer were to resign as the leader of his party and be replaced by his deputy, if the present government fell, and if Labour won the subsequent general election – all admittedly pretty big ifs – we would have a prime minister with direct working experience of professional caring.

Angela Rayner was employed as a home care assistant before entering Parliament and she now regularly draws on her background. Standing in for Starmer at prime minister’s questions, for example, she exposed Boris Johnson’s ignorance of how much care workers are paid. It was a cheap shot – how many of her own front bench colleagues would have got it right? – but it did succeed in bringing care industry wages to political and public prominence.

Ms Rayner followed up with an article in the Guardian under the headline Our social care workers must be paid a living wage, praising their ‘bravery and hard work’. Courage and commitment, however, are necessary but not sufficient qualities for the job. Refuse collectors have them too, but to be honest there is not much expertise in emptying wheely bins. Care workers are brave and hard working, but even allied to compassion, these attributes do not make for excellence. What is also required is sensitively applied knowledge. A similar point is made by David Goodhart of the think tank Policy Exchange in a recently published book Head  Hand  Heart, subtitled The Struggle for Dignity and Status in the 21st Century. ‘A good society’, Mr Goodhart argues, ‘must reimagine the meaning of skilled work, so that people who work with their hands and hearts are valued alongside workers who manipulate data’. Again, the key concept is skill – hands and hearts, but heads too.

The public sympathy for care workers arising from recent events is welcome but, in economically tough times, it will not in itself generate the political will to overhaul pay rates. If care workers are to earn more, they need to be seen to have had professional training which makes their contribution comparable to that of teachers and nurses. Otherwise they will find themselves still paid dustmen’s wages.

  • The CT Blog is written in a personal capacity – comments and opinions expressed are not necessarily endorsed or supported by Caring Times.

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