Carers Deemed a Low Value Occupation

After watching the "Campbell Live" item about the mother who couldn't access financial support for caring for her disabled son (non family carers are supported), it made me realize even more the sort of society we have become. Despite the value they provide in human and economic terms, caregivers languish at the very bottom of the employment spectrum. I would like to tell you about three amazing women I know whose contribution to society is probably greater than your average financial advisor and yet their collective pay would probably be many times less (I have obviously changed their names).

Heather worked for many years as a carer in a rest home. She was well regarded for her work ethic and the  empathy she had for the residents. Heather was able to appreciate the importance of treating the elderly in her care with respect and even if they suffered from dementia she gave recognition to the people they once were. She loved her job and was valued for her wide ranging contribution to the smooth running of the home, but the pay was minimal and she had to look for other employment. She is now working in a management position with responsibility for a number of staff, when she visits the rest home where she once worked she is concerned at the limited skills and knowledge of the workers currently employed. Sue Kedgley and Winnie Laban's findings in their report on elderly care was reflected in a recent Consumer report where both expressed concern that government funding to rest homes was primarily spent on buildings rather than investing in quality or qualified staff.

Beryl has worked as a teacher aid in the same school for around 12 years. She is an extremely capable woman whose dedication to children with special needs is exceptional. She researches the various disabilities afflicting the children in her care and spends many hours of her own time creating practical resources to support them. Due to her capabilities and skill in working with these children she was asked if she would consider teacher training but she dismissed this possibility because she preferred the one to one nature of her work and the relationships she was able to develop with children that was not possible for classroom teachers. Beryl recently had her hours cut because the school couldn't afford to employ her on her previous hours and she lost her time with one child whom she had worked with for four years. Support staff pay is minimal and any increases haven't kept up with inflation and Beryl has taken on a cleaning job in the school to make up the difference and is reluctantly looking at other options.

Nola works in for one of three local agencies that provide home support for the elderly. She is a widow in her fifties, previously lived on a farm and has a range of practical skills including gardening. She has a range of clients and as she is often the most regular contact that her clients have with anyone and she quickly becomes aware of their wider needs. Her work is generally supposed to be helping with cleaning and general household tasks but she does whatever she sees as providing the most useful practical support, even if it outside her job description. She attends to garden work, small shopping errands, friendly advice and emotional support. She brings flowers from her garden and distributes secondhand magazines and free newspapers she picks up from the local information centre. Even though she is on a minimal rate and is only employed by the same agency she is employed as an independent contractor. This means that the agency does not have to guarantee set hours of work or cover the full costs of transport etc. Nola also has to do many courses at her own expense to update her knowledge of first aid and the health and safety aspects of her job. When the DHB had a budget cut for home support Nola found her client list and hours drastically cut and her income greatly reduced .

These women are paid minimal wages because their jobs lack status and they are inclined to think of those they support before their own pay packets. The fact that their jobs are generally done by women has meant an historical bias as to the value of their work and a reluctance to address glaring inequities. Few of these women are members of  unions (many feel they can't afford the fees) and are generally dictated to by their employers and their employment contracts often provide the minimum required by law. None of these jobs are appropriate for inexperienced young school leavers and I struggle to understand why we should pay them as if they are.


Shane Pleasance said…
What would you do Dave? What would the Greens do?
bsprout said…
Shane, many of the jobs I have described are not paid well because traditionally women have done them and in the days when women were not paid as much as men they were not paid well and there has never been an increase. All of these jobs are paid not much more than the minimum wage and yet the skills and life experience needed to do them well should demand a much higher remuneration.

School support staff support teachers in the same way as nurses support doctors and many have similar qualifications (physios, school secretaries). Although a support staff worker may have worked in the school for over ten years there is no job security and they are dependent the operational grant paid to each school and their wages compete with other operation expenses. When support staff get a deserved pay rise there is often not the funds in the school to pay them and every increase in pay often means a decrease in hours. School support staff need to be paid from a central fund and their jobs should be permanent unless there are good reasons for them not to be (tagged to a high needs child).

Rest home staff are not paid well because the owners have used money that should have gone into employing quality staff into expanding the buildings. This has been highlighted by Consumer who found the money paid by the government more than compensates for paying good wages but they do not. There are big issues around the number of rest homes that are not complying to basic staffing requirements.

The independent contracting of home support is criminal. There are three businesses providing this service for the DHB and therefore three lots of management, this is a waste of money and those doing the work in homes are paid at a minimum so management can be paid. The level of costs that each contractor has to absorb themselves when they are already on low wages is unacceptable yet the job they do saves huge sums for the DHB. If the people being supported in their homes had to be cared for in a hospital the DHB costs would spiral. The DHB could save money by managing all the workers themselves under one management.
Shane Pleasance said…
So you would remove two of the three sets of management?
bsprout said…
Yes. Private provision of public services can often be flawed, especially when related to health. The US health system is one of the most expensive in the world because of the conflict of interest between providing a service and making a profit. It would seem to make sense not to replicate a management system and the costs involved when a public department could do it.
Shane Pleasance said…
So you would abolish private provision altogether? I am confused.

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