Young woman with elderly woman
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We spoke to the owners of a home care company to find out what’s going on with care in the UK

The UK care industry is under a lot of pressure. So what's it like to work in it?

In the UK, 69 home care companies – which go into people’s houses to help them out – have closed in the last three months.

Most care companies (like home care companies) are run privately in the UK, but are employed by local councils (councils are kind of like a local government and are responsible for spending the government’s money in a few areas, like care) to look after people who need it. Most of the healthcare system in the UK is paid for by the government, so most things like doctors appointments and necessary hospital treatments are free (the jargon they use is 'free at the point of use'). Social care – things like home care or community activity groups – works differently, it's not free at the point of use, but the council will cover all or some of the cost of care for people they think can't afford to pay for it.

A BBC investigation found out that some home care companies have had to cancel their contracts with the council because they’re not getting enough money.

In the UK, social care – particularly for the elderly – is under a lot of pressure. The government recently announced another £2bn to fund it, but as the population gets older and more people need care, local councils are finding it difficult to make sure people are looked after, and it’s having a big knock-on effect on the health service.

According to the BBC report, there are more than 6,500 people across Britain stuck in bed, despite being well enough to leave. In England, apparently a third of those people are waiting for a home care package – they're well enough to not be in hospital, but can't go home until they know there'll be someone there to look after them, which is where home care companies normally come in.

We spoke to the owners of a medium-sized home care company, Leslie and Paul, in the North West of England to find out what it’s like to run a business under so much pressure.

What was your reaction to the news that some businesses are having to close?

Paul: Well it’s not surprising, there are cuts everywhere at the moment, things are very difficult. It’s to do with cutting funding and the inability to get staff. The councils don’t pay enough and there is a lot of pressure on our staff members. Our staff go into people’s homes and provide the care, which often means long travel time, having to voluntarily picking up prescriptions, working overtime and keeping track of all the different medicines the people in these homes are on. The job is difficult, and the wages are low, people can get paid basically the same for a job in a supermarket stacking shelves, so why wouldn’t they do that?

Leslie: Yes I agree, we often miss out on staff members because we can’t match their previous salary. For example, last week we interviewed a healthcare professional who had to leave her job at a rehabilitation centre because that was being shut down. We offered her the job but she was put off by the poor salary. The problem is we can’t afford to offer as much as an NHS salary.

So is there a staff shortage in your business?

Manchester houses
Manchester homes

Leslie: Sometimes, especially around Christmas and New Year. We often rely on family helping out with our business. We constantly recruit as the staff are very transient. It’s easy to get into the industry, but you need to be quite a special person to [stick at it]. You need to be very caring, very patient and to go the extra mile. It’s not a 9-5 job. You’ve got to stay extra when needed as the care has to come first.

It’s about geography and poverty, some areas are more deprived than others. Manchester has the lowest life expectancy in the UK. All that has an impact on social care

Paul: Yes I’d echo that. Recently the industry has been controlled or more which, while obviously good for the safety of the person needing care, it also increases pressure on staff, who are often paid minimum wage or a little bit more. More funding would be better so we can pay more people a better wage.

Do you blame local authorities?

Leslie: No, they’re doing the best they can, they’re also struggling. Some local authorities are managing better than others. It’s about geography and poverty, some areas are more deprived than others. Manchester has the lowest life expectancy in the UK. All that has an impact on social care, more people need care in places with low life expectancy and areas with higher poverty often have more more health problems.

What could be done to help?

Paul: Well we’ve noticed that the families [of the people needing care] are getting more demanding. The family doesn’t always take on the responsibility. Really everything should be in order when we go into a house, but often that isn’t the case.

Leslie: Many families are expecting too much from care companies, they need to take some responsibility. For example they won’t collect prescriptions, and we have to go and get them in our own time. Because it’s medication we just do it, like charity work. Also the medication seems to change a lot for some patients and to keep up to date is very difficult. The government needs to look at the local authorities that are dealing with more ill health, and look at the funding of those authorities, because there will be some authorities that don’t have the same number problems.

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