Care is work on which the whole system of society depends. Care work continued throughout the crisis, but this hasn’t stopped providers introducing new technologies to increase their control. The care industry is a complex mix of public, private, and voluntary organisations. Providers in all these sectors disperse workers across the city, dispense with the they see fit, and often act without oversight and with impunity.
Care industry monitor
The Observatory is mapping constellations of the care industry in the city, and the way that the government is collaborating with businesses to atomise workers in care. Globally, corporations like care.com have made care work into gig work. In Edinburgh, companies are being encouraged and inspired to take their own approach.
Caresourcer is an Edinburgh-based startup that is planning to be the ‘the first comparison and matching site for older people care’: the Uber of personal care. It is based in Edinburgh and aims to lead the sector. Its senior developers and managers include quite a few former Skyscanner leaders. For care-users it is free, quick, and presents itself as a better alternative to contacting the council. It allows you to specify public or private funding so can be compatible with SDS. For care providers, it offers ways to increase custom, as well as a free support service for employees of providers, equivalent to aspects of a union service: advice about workplace issues, insurance, health advice etc. It is free because the value of this data is massive in terms of controlling the future of care work. Caresourcer is growing very fast: it has over 27,000 registered providers across the UK. It employs over 40 people in Edinburgh. Last October Scottish Enterprise funded it to create 70 more, with £1.5 investment: the ‘largest ever Series A funding round by a digital tech company in Scotland.’
If you work in care in the city or across Scotland and want to help us map the sector and the ways that new technologies are affecting care work, get in touch
It felt very isolating, the lockdown, because every interaction with the company has been through phones. I feel even less acknowledged for the work that I’m doing.
I’ve been travelling across the city by bus, but I’ve not been going into people’s houses to avoid the risk of giving them Covid. At the beginning of the lockdown there was chaos, and I would make my way through town, potentially infecting other people, only to be told when I arrived that my shift had been cancelled. I’ve looked into trying to get a bicycle, it would be better for everyone. Buses are chock full, with a lot of older people.
We very rarely get to meet other care workers. But we do have a sense of collective identity. Care workers can see care workers, and that’s what I like when I’m out and about. There’s a glance that we can pass to each other, “how is it going”. During Covid we’ve been talking more on the phone, to work out how to do the work. We’re trying to get more regular contact, with less fear that management will be snooping in. It feels like there are a lot of care workers out and about at the moment, just because not a lot of people are actually in town. There’s a lot of people of colour in care work and they’re extra-visible at the moment.
Right now I visualise my boss as a voice over a phone. Typical middle manager, as in gets blamed for everything. Definitely doesn’t live in Edinburgh. Probably Livingston I think, in an alright house that they own. We’ve had conversations about it actually, about how most of the managers say they can’t afford to live in Edinburgh, but the care workers who are paid substantially less than them live here and can’t afford their rent.
They ask staff members to go above and beyond, all the time. They’re your best friend, saying “can you do me a favour”, and the favours they’re actually repaying in turn are things like getting your holidays processed correctly. It works the other way as well. If you refuse to take shifts then you might see retaliation in terms of holidays not being processed. People are manipulated into doing it, I would say emotionally blackmailed into doing it. There’s all these strings that they can pull, they will, so they can get you to do more work.
During Covid we’re being talked about as key workers. I think a lot of care workers are exhausted and finding it really difficult, and I’m not too sure what will change. We’re under-appreciated and under-paid. And that’s because we’re kept apart from each other.
The big thing for me is that care workers don’t shout loud enough about the work that they do, they’re very humble a lot of them.
The heroes rhetoric is not helping. We’re workers. A carer is a lot of things. Kind. Righteous. Emotionally resilient. Physically strong. A lot of things.
People don’t always understand how support work works. There has been a show of public support over the months of the lockdown for people who do the work I do, but I feel very isolated as a care worker. It’s very bitty, distributed between different private profit-driven companies, public sector, and third sector groups. I have three part-time jobs. In some cases, under the ‘self-directed support’ scheme, the person you’re supporting is your employer.
I could identify someone as a support worker because a lot of them look like migrants. I’m a migrant who started working in social care twelve years ago through an agency. It’s an easy field to start work in because you don’t need to have any qualifications.
The way social care is organised is not working. Demand is going up, funding is going down, and the commissioning process is a race to the bottom. Some of my colleagues have left social care because they can’t do the work they would like to do. They have been ground down by the way they are treated by managers, who won’t pay for transport between houses of clients and other things like that.
I’ve worked for third sector providers that have great PR, but when they get the contracts the practice is very poor, because they never had the resources. I worked with a provider who was 500 hours down per month on the hours they had been contracted to provide. The contract is for flexible support, so we shouldn’t then be saying to the client:
If the support stops they say it was the client’s fault. So then you have clients with no support, the provider getting the money, and the council happy saying they have a service on the go.
Technologies of microcontrol are also being used to give flexibility but only to the employer. We were given an electronic system where you had to clock in and clock out. It was sold as something for health and safety, a shortcut to replace other kinds of risk assessment. These technological monitors substitute for good practice. They are easily misused for control, and don’t increase health and safety, they just cover the back of the employer. For that provider, it was a way to control when you went to a house, whether you stayed there as long as you were meant to be. This microcontrol is very useful for the company in disciplinaries.
Last year, a colleague and I approached the employer to get a pay rise and it was refused. We got a guaranteed hour contract, an increase in annual leave days, and holidays, and a notice period extended to a month. But we never got an increase. So I’ve been earning £10 an hour since 2016, no pay increase since 2016.
Heroes. No way! It’s skilled work that should be valued and paid for publicly. Like nurses – I don’t see a nurse and think she’s a good person. I see a nurse as someone who likes a job she does, has gone through the process of learning a job, and does the job to the best of her ability. She’s not a hero, she’s not a saint, she’s just doing a job she likes, and is skilled at, and that’s it. It’s the same with social care. Everybody could do the job if they dedicated the time to learning the skills and the energy to carrying it out. It’s not just if you’re a good person you can do the job. We are not heroes, we are just workers doing something we like.
To take control of our work, we need the right moment. I think we have momentum now. But we need the right tactics too. As with doctors and firefighters, we have a duty of care, so any action we take needs to be creative and not have a bad effect on the client.