I’m Laura, I’m 27, a social care support worker in Doncaster working with adults with autism and I don’t want to stay silent anymore about the failings of the care sector. On behalf of care workers all over the UK I want to stand up and make our voices heard. The Mencap sleep in judgement was a disgrace and a huge insult to care workers all over the country, who are working long shifts day in and day out, and don’t even have the national minimum wage to show for it.
I work sleep-in shifts pretty much every time I go to work. On a weekday, I work from 1pm to 11pm, then an 11pm to 7am “sleep-in” shift, and then I work from 7am to 10am. On a weekend I start work at either 1pm or 3pm and finish at 3pm the following day. So I can go up to 26 hours at work and for the sleep period I earn £28, which works out at £3.50 per hour.
Insult to workers
The Mencap ruling on 13 July was a huge mistake and was an insult to care workers everywhere. However, one positive of this is that more and more care workers are standing up and sharing their experiences. We aren’t taking this lying down. A "sleep-in" should be classed as working time. We are at work and we cannot leave. If we left we would be disciplined and perhaps even lose our jobs, and if an emergency happened and we weren’t there or didn’t wake up we could face criminal proceedings. That should be classed as work, not as “on call". The care industry appears to be the only industry that gets away with this.
The judgement is made on the assumption that care workers are asleep. The reality is very different, it’s not like going to sleep at home. When I go to sleep at home I don’t have the responsibility of other people so I can sleep soundly. At work I am constantly listening out, every creak and slight noise makes it impossible to relax and get a decent night’s sleep as I have service users with complex medical needs. I’m lucky if I manage two hours. Because I have a duty of care, I’m lone working and I’m constantly woken up by service users just going to the toilet, I can’t sleep properly. But I can’t book that time because it’s not an emergency.
Dangerous working conditions
Personally, I think care providers also need to take into account the health implications of “sleep-ins”. Doing shifts before and after a sleep-in is exhausting both mentally and physically. At the end of my shift I often go home with a headache, backache and generally just feel unwell. Not to mention that handling medication etc when having had no sleep is potentially dangerous. And to be paid £28 for it is not on.
We work so hard and do an amazing job, and to be told we’re not even worth the National Minimum Wage (NMW) is hurtful and disheartening. We work ourselves into the ground, do unreasonably long shifts with no breaks, sleep-in after sleep-in, back-to-back shifts because we care. The people at the top of these companies are so far removed from their workers, how can they stand up in court and make claims that we have a decent night's sleep when they never engage with us and don’t know what we are experiencing?
I adore the people I support, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want some quality of life for myself too. We all take our duty of care very seriously, so why is it so wrong to expect that we are paid fairly in return? It’s not like we’re asking for anything extravagant, just the NMW that everybody in every other industry is entitled to. I love my job but I no longer want to work in an industry that treats its workers so poorly. This isn’t what I signed up for when I started. I wanted to make people happy and make a difference to people’s lives, but I shouldn’t be expected to do that at the expense of my own.
At breaking point
So where does the care industry go from here? The whole sector needs looking at very carefully, from NMW to working time regulations (which a lot of employers break). It needs to be investigated properly. I also think employers, especially the charity sector which depends on donations, need to more transparent with their employees and the public and address these issues.
At the time of writing this, I haven’t heard a thing from my company regarding the court case and sleep-in pay, bar one email after they ran a staff survey and received negative feedback. The email only stated they were waiting for the Mencap ruling to go through. That was it.
Morale is so low among the care industry, and the trust between companies and employees has been completely shattered and that is because management are hiding things from us. The social care industry is already at breaking point, and if this continues, it will lead to a huge loss of staff.
I’m pleased to hear that the union is fighting this, and we also currently have a movement on twitter using the hashtag #awakeonasleepin which tells the real experience of sleep in care workers, not the watered down version given to the courts. We might be exhausted, but our spirit is not broken. We need change and we will fight for it.